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Zhang Yimou moves from arthouse to martial arts with a gorgeous film about the making of China
ARTICLE INFOThe ruler of Qin has a dream to unite the Six Kingdoms of China into a single nation, but his ruthless and brutal methods have earned him many enemies. His life is in specific jeopardy from the three legendary warriors of Zhao who have vowed to kill him: Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow. When a minor prefect appears before the king, bearing the weapons of the three would-be assassins, the king grants him a rare audience and asks him to explain how he defeated the three. Nameless tells his story, but the king is unconvinced and demands to know the real reason behind the nameless man's journey, leading to a gradual unfolding of the truth.
film by Zhang Yimou
rated 8.0/10 by 1 person
After a number of critically acclaimed films, and a series of run-ins with the Chinese government, Zhang Yimou tries his hand at the wuxia genre of heroic fantasy with the ambitious Hero, and a fine film it is too. It's not ground-breaking in the slightest, but it brings an arthouse sensibility to the usual wire-fu that results in a jaw-droppingly beautiful film.
Comparisons with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon are inevitable, but rather misplaced as the two have little in common. For all its commercial leanings Hero has a more philosophical bent to it, reflecting upon the links between chess, calligraphy and swordwork, as well as the ideals of the warrior, in amongst the drama and the fighting. Its complex narrative is layered in a similar way to that of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, and each of its main sequences are colour-coded according to the underlying theme; red for passion, blue for love, green for youth, white for truth, and black for death.
Jet Li summed it up best when he said "each frame is like a painting". The photography and scenery are spectacular throughout the entire film, with overt CG being used mainly for stylistic effect, to show individual raindrops bursting apart as two combatants race towards each other, or a deluge of arrows raining down from the sky. The centrepiece of the film has to be the autumnal forest duel, in which Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi battle amongst trees bedecked in glorious shades of red, and a constantly swirling layer of fallen leaves, but every single scene deserves acclaim.
Jet Li deserves kudos for taking on a role that stretches his abilities, but in the end he is out-classed by Tony Leung. This is perhaps not helped by the fact that Leung has the more interesting role as Broken Sword. His internal conflict is explored in more depth than Li's character, and so there is a more palpable sense of loss when he sacrifices what he must for his belief in the greater good of uniting China. Nevertheless, Hero doesn't engage as fully as one might expect, and the emotional upheavals fail to reach the heart in the same way as the visual richness reaches the eyes.
Some critics have lambasted Hero for having a pro-totalitarian subtext, but given Yimou's previous history with the Chinese governement, this opinion is ridiculous and a needless distraction from the spectacle of the film itself. Hero is a worthy addition to the wuxia genre, a gorgeous film that demands to be seen on the big-screen.