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Hero (2002)

Cast: Jet Li, Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, more...
Director: Zhang Yimou, Zhang Yimou
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Miramax
Genre: Foreign, Hong Kong, China, Martial Arts, Wuxia
Running Time: 99 min.
Languages: English, French, Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Spanish
    see additional details...

Hero is two-time Academy Award nominee Zhang Yimou's directorial attempt at exploring the concept of a Chinese hero.During the peak of their Warring States period, China was divided into seven kingdoms all fighting for supremacy. Most determined to dominate China was the Kingdom of Qin, whose King (Chen Daoming) was wholly obsessed with becoming the first emperor of China. Though he was an assassination target for many, none of his would-be-killers inspired as much fear as the legendary assassins Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Sky (Donnie Yen). In hopes of thwarting his death, the King (Daoming) promised endless wealth and power to anyone who defeats his would-be murderers. No results come until ten years later, when a man called Nameless (Jet Li) brought the weapons of the three assassins to the Qin King's palace. Nameless claimed to be an expert swordsman who had defeated Sky and destroyed the famed duo of Flying Snow and Broken Sword by using their love for one another against them. Once Nameless comes face to face with the King, however, it looks as if the situation is more complicated than he had thought. Also featured in Hero is actress Zhang Ziyi (The Road Home) as Broken Sword's devoted servant, Moon. ~ Tracie Cooper, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

The Wuxia Leviathan by kiume February 3, 2005 - 3:17 PM PST
10 out of 10 members found this review helpful
Two millennia ago, Ying Zheng, king of Qin, conquered the states of Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, and Wei, declared himself the first emperor of all of China, and began the building of the Great Wall to make its borders eternal.

Like Napoleon, Ying Zheng's administrative and social reforms far outlived his own short reign. He died a natural death, but entwined with his biography--and illustrative of his life and character--are the stories of the many assassins who tried very hard to make it even shorter. When the people trying to kill you are revered as much as you are, hey, maybe you're not everybody's favorite cup of tea. The hagiographic depictions of Ying Zheng in Hero conveniently avoid this nagging little fact.

The assassin who almost succeeded, coming close enough to tear Ying Zheng's sleeve with his dagger, was one Jing Ke, the historical antecedent for two of the protagonists, Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Nameless (Jet Li). The movie begins with the Nameless arriving at the imperial palace claiming to have killed the Three Most Wanted, and requesting as his reward an audience with the emperor. To bolster his claim, he recounts before the emperor in detail how he disposed of them.

Director Yimou Zhang borrows heavily from the Kurosawa's Rashomon, beginning first with Nameless's narrative and then retelling it again from the perspective of each of the people involved. However, unlike Rashomon, where in the denouement Kurosawa produces a reliable eyewitness, Zhang's hyper-stylized version casts aside the idea that an objective reality need exist. Which would be less problematic were we not talking about an historical figure.

This is the third biopic made about Ying Zheng in the last decade. The Emperor's Shadow (1996) and The Emperor and the Assassin (1999) take less fanciful (though no less melodramatic) views of the same material. But they also paint a portrait of Ying Zheng that, at least based on my reading, is fairly accurate.

Ying Zheng was, to be sure, a first-order Napoleonic figure, but also one with the temperament of Nero and the management style of Richard III. He was the nutcase buried with a terracotta army to protect his immortal soul, which, if the Confucians at the time had any say about the matter, needed much protection. (Ying Zheng and the Confucians shared a mutual loathing, the big difference being that what Ying Zheng loathed he had summarily executed.)

Hero, in contradiction of fairly well-established fact, depicts Ying Zheng as, if anything, well, misunderstood. It is, if not in intent then certainly in outcome, a unabashed paean to Hobbes's Leviathan, a tribute to the thankless job of being an enlightened despot. You can just see China's modern-day neo-coms nodding their heads in earnest agreement. Yeah, it is tough being Darth Vader and having to hold the empire together all by your lonesome.

And yet. It is hugely entertaining. The only really depressing thing about Hero is just how much it reminds you of George Lucas's increasingly uninspired and unimaginative arguments for the opposing Lockean perspective, the natural rights of man and all that. Hero is the anti-Star Wars.

Besides, it's hard for me to disparage a film in which linguistics factors so prominently in turning the protagonists towards the light (or, rather, towards the Dark Side of The Force). I mean, how cool would it be if Vader didn't say to Luke, "I am your father," but instead, "I'm going to standardize orthography across the Empire!" And Luke said, "Hmm, you've got a point there." No kidding, and it's actually a more profound statement than anything Lucas has come up with.

And to be fair, Yimou Zhang, whose previous films at times ran afoul of Chinese censors, set out from the beginning to make a wuxia fantasy in the spirit of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, not a historical biopic. So forget all of the above and treat it the same as those polished and shining Arthurian cinematic extravaganzas that have zero to do with history and everything to do with what we like to pretend about Anglo-Saxon history, including the silly sword & sorcery stuff.

Yimou Zhang has done much more than choreograph ballet-like fight scenes and assemble casts of (digital) thousands. There is as well the sheer, breathtaking vastness of the locations (these days, no one does vast like the Chinese), all magnified many fold by Christopher Doyle's stunning cinematography. Every time the narrative changes perspective and a new version of events is introduced, the entire color scheme changes--clothing, lighting, sets--from gray to red to blue to green to white.

This isn't subtle stuff at all, and could be seen to spill over into artistic self-indulgence. We're talking about vivid, primary colors, palettes of paint thrown across the screen. But, then, this isn't exactly subtle storytelling. And who cares when it's so gorgeous to look at.

And speaking of gorgeous things to look at, the incredibly beautiful Maggie Cheung and the incredibly handsome Tony Leung, as two of the conspiring assassins, steal the second half of the movie with performances so over the top, so operatic, as to demand a Puccini or Verdi to really do the material justice. Jet Li, on the other hand, has never emoted much as an actor and here he doesn't at all, so it's hard to care too much about what happens to him.

But at least what happens is so very cool to watch, as is this movie.

Beautiful Movie by bcook09 January 11, 2005 - 12:01 PM PST
1 out of 3 members found this review helpful
The cinamatography is gorgeous and the attention to detail and the use of color in this movie is exquisite. By far superior to CTHD in its use of subtle themes and the cooreography (sic).

It's well worth the rental to just sit back and enjoy the changing story line throughout the movie as seen through different characters.

The Meaning of "Hero" by talltale December 8, 2004 - 8:48 AM PST
2 out of 5 members found this review helpful
Although I am growing a bit tired of "flying" martial arts movies, I have to hand it to HERO. Evidently, we Americans are seeing a somewhat different adaptation of this Chinese history fable than the Chinese themselves got. Still, this Miramaxed version offers so much spectacle, pageantry, color (and color palette), action, heroics (in the deeper meaning of this word) and even philosophy, that it wipes away any quibbles. By concerning itself with the question of why human beings choose to perform heroic deeds--and finally, what IS heroism--the film rises above standard martial arts movies. Some viewers insist that the film promotes/placates dictatorship, which is why the present Chinese government is so pro-"Hero." This is an idea worth discussion, but it does not detract from the film's very real achievement as thought-provoking entertainment. Maggie Cheung is simply stunning (noble, gorgeous, heroic, graceful) and the rest of the cast is right up there, as well. Zhang Yimou--who's proven himself a top-notch director of everything from family sagas ("To Live") to near- perfect tear-jerkers ("Happy Times," "Not One Less") and feminist fables ("Raise the Red Lantern"), all of them grounded by an understanding of economics, politics and education--has now found a new area of film to conquer. "Our land," indeed! "House of Flying Daggers," here I come.

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