on 10 August 2006
A foreign-language film with subtitles becoming No1 at the American box-office? Impossible, you may feel, but Hero managed it. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon had opened up a new market for Western audiences, and Hero was one of many films to benefit.
The plot? A lowly official (Jet-Li) is brought before the Emperor to be rewarded for killing three martial-arts experts who had previously attempted to assassinate the ruler; Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). The Emperor invites him to describe just how he managed to kill all three when his own army had failed. We then see in flashback the fights that took place, but the Emperor is dissatisfied with the explanation and offers his own interpretation...
This film is a visual work of art. The style is like to Crouching Tiger in that the abilities of the characters are beyond reality - they can fly through the air and walk on water - a wuxia film, but this has been taken to epic proportions - including using the Chinese Army as extras firing thousands of arrows into the sky! Colour is of particular importance here - as most of the fights are shown in flashback and are revisited to show another perspective, the characters and scenery are colour-coded and change with each version. The soundtrack too, from Tan Dun and Itzhak Perlman, is very haunting and memorable.
The director went on to direct House of Flying Daggers after this which is also a visual treat. That film seems to get more attention but out of the two, whilst I like them both, I would actually put this one first as, to me, Daggers seems to run out about two-thirds through whereas the non-linear narrative in this film keeps the interest in the story going. Try it and see.
Finally, in this edition, you can select to watch a dubbed version - instead of with subtitles if they're not your thing.
on 22 January 2013
This is one of the best martial arts films of recent times. It's a gem.
You just can't take your eyes off the screen from start to finish. It's astonishingly beautiful. Colour, texture, design, nature, calligraphy, movement, dance - everything ravishes the senses. And it has Ziyi Zhang in it. Enough said.
But there's more than visuals. A delicious, complex, fluid plot with plenty intrigue and mystery. The play on the idea of truth and reality versus storytelling, keeps us alert and striving to keep up.
Then there's the use of sound. The fight scene with the dripping water and the koto - the sounds will stay with me for life.
The martial arts scenes are really very good. But perhaps the calligraphy scenes are even better?
I found the ending a little hard to understand. Perhaps it was not the strongest part of the film - unsure.
I can watch this one again and again.
At least 4 and 1/2 stars.
on 5 October 2007
Director Zhan Yimou is a great director of drama. But he has never directed an action film before. So I went into this with some trepidation. But he has shown with 'Hero', that he is an overall great director. This movie was very well cast and directed.
Jet Li plays a nameless warrior who presents to the Emperor of Qin the weapons of the three greatest assassins. All of who had sworn to kill him. We are taken on a trip through the stories of the Nameless and how he killed the three assassins. And then once again when the emperor tells us his interpretation of what he perceives happen. Ever perception of the story has its on emotions, visually displayed by its own primary color. The filming is also epic; they were able to use the Chinese army to fill in as extras for the emperor's army.
The conflict shows us the emotions involved with what that emperor was trying to do; unite the seven provinces under one rule. It does delve into both side's reasons and how one person's assassin is another's hero. And what we learn is both sides of any conflict have its heroes. But the main theme this movie tries to get across is that it is a great hero who thinks of his land before his own desires.
For the martial artist we are treated to Jet Li and Donnie Yen fighting each other. It is a wonderful fight. And I hope we do not have to wait years to see them paired up again. This fight alone is worth watching the movie for.
I will not review the film itself but will comment on the Blu Ray version
After I swapped my House of Flying Daggers DVD to Blu Ray I was very upset with the upscale to High Def and as Hero was the only one left of this type of film I wanted on Blu Ray I feared the worst. However i can bring you great news that the picture quality in High Def is jaw droppingly beautiful and great sound to match.
Subtitles in English, French & Spanish, Audio DTS 5.1-HD English
Ever since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released back in 2000, films since then have tried to capture its purity, its unique look and stylishly-made action but all have failed...until now. From the start off, director Zhang Zimou tells this handsome tale of a nameless warrior, who needs to assassinate China's deadiest assassins before he can get an audience with the Emperor, with remarkable ease.
The perfectly-picked cast from Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi and Donnie Yen all show that they've got excellent acting talents (especially Jet Li and Maggie Cheung) while also showing that they've also got tremendous physique and awesome martial artistry too. The story wonderfully flows along with the soothing soundtrack, beautiful colourisation (blues, reds, greens, oranges) and epic set-pieces. Now, the breath-taking action set-pieces is what this film is all about...from Jet Li's encounter with Sky (Donnie Yen) to the splendid grand finale with the Emperor, the action never stops with its fluent sword-fighting, effortless flying techniques (that looks almost as better than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and awe-inspiring visual-FX that looks gorgeous to watch on-screen.
Presented by Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2) and loved by critics everywhere, this is a stupendously enjoyable and immensely unforgettable epic fable which will be loved by audiences for years to come.
Don't be put off by the fact this film was heavily promoted by the self-styled saviour of Asian Cinema, Quentin Tarrantino, it is far better than anything he has even dreamt of directing or producing.
Hero is a tale based on Chinese folk-lore that Zhang Yimou paints in a glorious palate of reds, greens and blues. His very visual style of story telling is highly evident in this film and works perfectly with the ballet like performances of his stars.
The chemistry between the characters, especially Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, is extraordinary and adds depth and emotional charge to the proceedings, saving Hero from being labelled as just another pretty martial arts film. The ever present Zhang Ziyi produces another memorable performance and Jet Li is the embodiment of collected calm as the nameless warrior.
The English dubbing is a good feature. As the audience for asian cinema has increased over the years, so has the quality of the international dubbing. Subtitles by their very nature have to be relatively short and to the point, especially in very visual films. This means that a lot of the dialogue is edited and you lose a lot of the script. The writing in Hero is so strong I recommend viewing the film dubbed into English as well as Mandarin with subtitles. It takes a bit to get used to but hearing the script as it was meant to be is well worth it. It's a bit like watching a film you've only seen on tv at an IMAX cinema - a whole new experience. The best example I've heard of this is in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (another wonderful film), here's a section of dialogue:
"Even warriors can be stupid" - English subtitles
"In affairs of the heart even the greatest warrior can be a consummate idiot." - Same line but dubbed into English
Hero is a brilliant story told through visual flare and highly emotive performances, with an ending that leaves you breathless. The title of the film suggests it focuses on one character, one hero; but as the film unfolds you begin to realise that every character present could be described thus. Simply superb.
Don't you just love films that showcase the real awesome beauty of the cinematic medium? That revel in the glory of vivid colour, the ergonomic poetry of movement and the sense surrounding wonder of sound. Such a film is Hero. Even my down to earth stoic partner who doesn't normally like subtitled films was blown away by Hero. Anyone who fails to find something to admire in this film should have their palette checked urgently as it's probably jaded beyond repair.
Set in what is now modern China 2000 years ago, at a time when this country was divided into seven great states, Hero tells the story of the Unknown Warrior who at the behest of the King of the warlike state of Qin has killed the three assassins who he fears are the greatest threat to his all conquering plans and his dreams of becoming Emperor of the united Kingdom. The warrior relates his tale to the King which we see in a series of flashback sequences, but all is not as it seems so we learn through more flashbacks the unfolding truth and what the Warriors true purpose is.
Using the attempted assassination of the historical figure Chin Si Huang Di (Chinas first Emperor) the film puts into context a different cultures interpretation of what makes a true hero and raises interesting questions about what constitutes true heroism. It also poses the very pertinent conundrum if it is worth a period of war and instability in order to bring about a total lasting peace.
The real star of this film is director of photography Christopher Doyle who fills the screen with lush colours and verdant images, but Director Zhang Yimou uses the stunning indigenous locations to breathtaking effect as well and choreographs the balletic fight scenes with the backdrops so it all merges to one sumptuous whole. This film will do wonders for Chinese tourism( I was looking up tours to China on the Internet the day after seeing this film, more in misguided hope than anything mind) The film is full of unforgettable images. A billowing cloud of Autumnal leaves turning blood red after a death, a deadly hail of arrows on a calligraphy school, a mesmerising duel in a slate grey rain spattered courtyard and the hallucinatory sparring of two foes over a gorgeous jade green lake shrouded by misty hills. Image after image is seared on the brain, it's almost overwhelming.
Jet Li plays the Warrior in a role that requires little from him but to look determined and implacable. Maggie Cheung is mesmerising and astonishingly beautiful as the assassin "Flying Snow" as is Zhang Ziyi as "Moon", the apprentice to Assassin "Broken Sword" who is played by Tony Leung. He gives a wonderfully subtle and measured performance and is matched by veteran Chen Daoming as the King. Donnie Yen is "Sky" the third assassin but really his is a cameo role but he does get to partake in the films most compelling action sequence with Jet Li. The fights have that gravity defying graceful yet incredibly intemperate quality that anyone who's seen "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" will be familiar with. (I had to mention it, after all these films share the same producer)
This film is a feast for anyone the least bit interested in cinema and its potential for ravishing sensory overload. All you need are your eyes and ears and a cushion to catch your jaw when it hit's the floor.
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.
on 23 November 2004
This really deserves to be a no-brainer, but of course that is only really known to those amongst us blessed enough to have seen this utter masterpiece. Simply put, this is the most beautiful piece of cinema I have ever seen. Don't let the Kung Fu connection put you off, Hero's fight sequences have more in common with ballet than Bruce Lee, stirring the senses and gripping the heart. The wire-work is faultless, costumes gorgeous, actors charismatic and appealing, locations awe-inspiring, scenes compelling and narrative gripping and satisfying. If you were to pause the movie at any one point you'd get an image that could be framed and put on your livingroom wall, it's that eye-poppingly gorgeous. And don't get me started on Zhimou's symbolic use of colour..... wow....
on 23 March 2007
Very rarely does a film make full use of the many visual aspects of cinematography, but Hero is one of them. From the very start of the film it entrances with stunning photography, atmospheric music and assured acting. The direction of the many fight scenes makes each piece a choreographed dream, from the fight in the rain at the beginning of the film to the finale in the Emperor's hall with its billowing green sails and sweeping camera angles. For use of colour alone the film would rank highly - so few film makers manipulate that most precious of inventions - colour film. I remember seeing the Wizard of Oz as a child and feeling the wonderment people must have experienced at seeing colour after all the years of black and white. The colours were used as an aid to tell the story, to highlight character and tone, to enhance feelings - Hero takes back that sense of wonderment and I was stunned by the beauty and originality of both its story (a film with a philosophical message, how rare!) and its artistry.