By Carter B. Horsley
"Hero" is an astoundingly
stunningly beautiful epic story of an attempt to assassinate a
Chinese ruler during the Warring States period.
Although in essence a "martial
arts" film, its awesome cinematography, fine acting and challenging
plot raise it far above the genre's ever-rising standards.
A warrior called "Nameless,"
played with great intensity by Jet Li, who appeared in "Romeo
Must Die," brings the emperor the weapons of three other
warriors who had sworn to kill the emperor and in flashbacks tells
the emperor of how he obtained them. After hearing his stories
and rewarding him by letting him approach closely, the emperor
offers a different version, one that suggests that the warrior's
tales were part of a plot to permit the warrior to assassinate
This "Rashomon" treatment
unfolds a bit confusingly, but, like "Rashomon" (see
The City Review
article), it has a
very fitting ending. Each of the "versions" employs
a different dominant color scheme.
The film is the first "martial
arts" movie directed by Zhang Yimou, whose previous works
include "Raise The Red Lantern" and "Ju Dou."
The movie is ambitious and
has many extremely memorable fight scenes that employ every trick
in the genre's arsenal to stunning effect.
The most spectacular scene
is a battle on a lake in which the "Nameless" warrior
fights Broken Sword, played admirably by Tony Leung, who appeared
in "In the Mood for Love," and
"Hard Boiled," and
they walk, spin and fly over the still water in a balletic duel
that is mesmerizing.
Earlier in the film, the "Nameless"
warrior battles with Sky, played by Donnie Yen, in a fantastic
fight in the rain in which the rain drops are ferociously shattered.
Another very lyrical duel is
fought between Flying Snow, played by Maggie Cheung, who appeared
in "Irma Vep, Comrades, and "Almost
a Love Story," and
Moon, Broken Sword's servant, played by Zhang Ziyu, who appeared
in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,"
in an autumnal explosion
The final confrontation between
the "Nameless" warrior and the King of Qin, played by
Chen Dao Ming, takes place beneath billowing and cascading drapes.
Each of these scenes alone
is worth the price of admission, or the DVD, which includes two
lengthy and fine special features about the movie.
The beginning and end of the
film, however, are even more formidable. They are monumental scenes
involving thousands of troops and the cinematography by Christopher
Doyle is exquisite and truly awe-inspiring.
The acting is consistently
gripping and Maggie Cheung is a quite remarkable dragonlady of
The film is sumptuous and spell-binding
and even Bruce Lee would have been very impressed. The special
effects are amazing but do not detract from the poetic artistry
of the film.
This film is rated 47th in
Carter B. Horsley's Top
500 Sound Films.