11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A masterful film of exquisite complexity and beauty,
This review is from: Quentin Tarantino Presents: Hero [DVD]  (DVD)
Hero is a beautiful work of art, a visual feast for the senses featuring a powerful, complex storyline and some of the most exquisite swordplay I've ever seen. Western filmmakers can never hope to rival the all-encompassing quality of a film like this because, to the West, martial arts are all about action, fighting, and violence. I'm no martial arts expert - not even close - but I do know that the true martial artist is, as the name says, an artist, one who uses his limbs and entire body as unconscious extensions of a mind that has become one with the life inside and around him; it is much more of a mental than a physical endeavor. And, as impressive as any particular fight scene may be, it is only secondary to whatever powerful forces lead up to it.
I see no reason why Western audiences would not be enthused by this movie; the story is built on many intriguing layers, but the basic plot is seemingly easy to understand. Jet Li plays a nameless warrior who comes to the court of the king (Daoming Chen) of the Quin province to present him with the swords of his greatest enemies, the assassins Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). Quin is the largest and most powerful of the Six Kingdoms, and the king's dreams of unification have been stymied for years because of the dangers posed by these deadly assassins. The nameless hero is the first person granted the right to come closer than 100 paces from the king in the last three years. It is odd that the knowledgeable king knew nothing of this minor official turned hero before now, so he is most interested in hearing how the nameless warrior dispatched the three most deadly fighters in all the land. We are shown the story in a series of cinematographically gorgeous flashbacks awash in the most absorbing, vibrant of colors. If you're thinking this sounds like a pretty simple story, though, you are quite wrong. The king of Quin is a brilliant thinker who questions the nameless hero's story - and, eventually, the elusively remarkable truths standing at the heart of this epic film are revealed. Hero is sure to play more powerfully to the Chinese who see in the king of Quin the man who united the disparate kingdoms and basically forged the Chinese nation-state, but the revelations imbedded in this intriguingly complex story contain nuggets of understanding for all who will see, hear, and contemplate them.
The fight scenes that dominate the film are just exquisitely done. You don't see a lot of martial arts films centered on the sword rather than hand-to-hand combat - probably because swordplay is difficult to master and choreograph. The performers make it look as natural as breathing in this movie, however - it's not only incredibly impressive, it's extraordinarily beautiful to watch. Wires schmires - it's pure poetry in motion. Tan Dun's soundtrack only adds to the wondrous effect with its endlessly haunting strains.
What really makes Hero stand out is the complexity of its characters. The nameless hero, Sky, Broken Sword, Flying Snow, the king of Quin - these are not simple warriors; they are intricate creatures with deep, long-standing motivations, connoisseurs of the art they pursue, master strategists, dreamers, and men and women with ideals far more powerful than themselves.
I have to mention the fact that Ziyi Zhang appears in this film as an apprentice to Broken Sword - although hers is not a major part. Many will recognize her from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. For my money, she's the brightest light in Hong Kong cinema.
This film is truly epic in scope - in terms of the cinematography as well as the incredible performances. The only recent martial arts film I rate higher than Hero is House of Flying Daggers - and I don't expect any movie to top that extraordinary masterpiece any time soon.