A gorgeous Hero gets a qualified recommendation
Referring to Hero as a martial-arts movie is kind of like calling Cirque du Soleil merely a circus. Though the film contains plenty of ferociouswire-fu battles choreographed with the same balletic grace as its cousin (and overall superior) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this film’s real purpose is the stunning craft of its visual palette. In fact, though fans of Tiger will be predisposed to see director Zhang Yimou’s similarly themed Asian warrior epic, they may be a little let down, at least at first. The fight scenes in Hero don’t have the jaw-dropping, groundbreaking cachet of Tiger.
The film also struggles a bit while unraveling its narrative. Two thousand years ago, before the reign of the first emperor, warring factions of the Six Kingdoms of China plot to assassinate powerful ruler Qin (Chen Daoming). The Nameless warrior (Jet Li) comes before the king to tell how he has killed those assassins. In Rashomon style (a method of relating events from multiple perspectives) we see the brave warriors battles with Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen).
The real Heroes of this resplendent film are those responsible for Hero’s majestic choreography (Siu-Tung Ching), eye-popping cinematography (Christopher Doyle), and its flowing, relentlessly colorful costumes (Emi Wada). Each scene has a color to match its mood: The screen is awash in reds, whites, blues and greens giving the film a glorious surreal look that rivals any feature length film to date.
All that being said Hero doesn’t rate an unequivocal recommendation. Some will dread the film’s languid pace and Eastern-flavored logic. (He was killed as an assasin but was buried as a Hero. What?) A few of the film’s more dramatic moments will seem a bit hokey for they include the kind of heavy-handed dialogue that is lampooned hilariously in Kung Pow!
Thankfully, the film has a sturdy, accelerated momentum going for it and the performances, including the enchanting Zhang Ziyi as servant Moon are undeniably affecting.
For all its dashing beauty Hero ends up being a mood piece. If you’re in the mood for a martial-arts film that spills little blood, takes its time telling its rather complex story and seeks to impress your eyes more than your intelligence, then Hero is a must-see-on-a-big-screen film. Some have questioned the film’s political motives regarding fascist dictatorships but I doubt most movie-goers will come out analyzing that aspect.
Don’t be worried about the film’s affiliation with Quentin Tarantino. Hero does not contain any of Tarantino’s signature graphic violence, cynicism or penchant for profanity. Though he’s listed as a co-producer, his primary involvement was to get Miramax to release the film here in the states. It sat on the studio’s shelf for nearly two years. Guess they were busy rushing more noble films like Jersey Girl and Raising Helen to our local cinemas.
Rated PG-13 for violence and sensuality.