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Hero /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung

Directed by: Zhang Yimou

Produced by: Zhang Yimou, Bill Kong
Written by:
Feng Li, Bin Wang, Zhang Yimou
Distributor: Miramax


Jet Li in Miramax's Hero
Maggie Cheung in Miramax's Hero
Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Miramax's Hero

     Hero caries the title-tag "Quentin Tarantino Presents", which does a great disservice to both it and the culture-aficionado who claims to be inductor into the American market. The material in Zhang Yimou’s film, which was written in Mandarin, resembles something along the lines of Kill Bill: Volume One on the surface, but is much richer and, at times, funnier than Tarantino’s homage to films of its sort. The American writer/director could only dream of creating a similar work of equal skill as Zhang, whose credit has been stolen by his fellow filmmaker. For all I know, such a marketing strategy could draw crowds into multiplexes, as a result of their recognition of a popular name. But, from a purely artistic standpoint, the foreign filmmaker has been played.

     The story, which chronicles a group of three warriors’ attempt to assassinate the King of Qin, who leads an expanding empire, is packed with cheesy dialogue from writers Feng Li and Bin Wang, in addition to Zhang, himself. But, it only sounds ridiculous. Those who actually read into all of the lines in Hero will discover deep symbolism, which is enriching in every sense. If taken for face value, the one-liners may seem like stupid, overly important pieces of recitation, but in them are great ideas regarding social and mental politics. In addition, the movie shows a clear understanding of concise mathematics, and their contrast with emotion. As a person proves their trust to the King of Qin, they can move closer to him, as he rests on his throne. I take this as a metaphor for a tight lifestyle, in direct parallel to vulnerable government, while still remaining in a state of traditionalism. One could call this ritual of approaching the King important to retaining the pre-existent conduction of the empire, but, at the same time, it shows his great fear of one trying to overthrow him. He is symbolic of order; all of the land he controls would be overthrown, without him.

     The aesthetics of the film are perhaps the highest noticeable priority on Zhang’s agenda. The appearance of each scene is striking; light is instituted in times of chaos, in the form of either expanded coloration or usage of an outdoor locale for the particular scene. I suppose this translates into the expression of the serenity; violence can seem bittersweet when it concerns revenge or, as it does in this movie, deception. Attentive viewers will notice that as the main character, Nameless (Jet Li), discusses issues with the King of Qin, and his participation in the plan to overthrow the empire is revealed, the room becomes slightly lighter. This references the two characters’ enlightenment. On the King’s part, this is exhibited in the form of his increasing knowledge of Nameless’ true motives. But, as he realizes this, Nameless further understands the consequences of his future actions, leading to a surprisingly unpredictable, haunting, and heartbreaking conclusion.

    In addition to the more meaningful visual techniques, the special effects are absolutely amazing to simply gaze at. The battle scenes, particularly the deceptive showdowns between characters, are insane. Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) participate in most all of these, and account for two thoroughly interesting personalities.

     The acting in the film, particularly on the part of Li, who I have hated in all of his previous projects, is astounding in Hero. It is one of the many surprisingly terrific features in what may appear to be a standard kung-fu flick. Here, there are themes worth analyzing and true artistry to be found, in addition to the expected cool action sequences, typically found in this type of film. Whatever one’s reason for seeing Hero, whether it be the artistry, swordplay, or storytelling, they’ll certainly find it to be enjoyable. I was elated by the material, stunned by its apparent depth. There is nothing “normal” about this motion picture, and, in a drought of quality films, that should be reason enough to see it. Let’s just hope that it finds the same broad audience that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did, nearly four years ago.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (8.11.2004)

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