Set 2,000 years ago, during the time of the Warring States, when seven kingdoms were battling for dominance, and one leader--the king of Qin (Chen Dao...
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Review of "Hero (DVD)"
Is there any way that I can review Hero without comparing it to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Probably not, so we'll get it out of the way early. I wasn't a fan of that film at all, and was frankly amazed at the success it enjoyed. It deserves recognition on a technical level, and congratulations for pushing itself into the mainstream, but beyond that, it was lacking. It almost felt as if those hailing it were doing so because they hadn't seen any non-English films before and celebrated it as something new. Whether or not that's a good thing is something to be debated, but it did aid the future availability of foreign language films.As such, in the four years since Crouching Tiger, a wealth of foreign films have been available, with several opening each month instead of the yearly handful that arrived before. Audiences are more accepting of subtitles, and thankfully scornful of dubbing. Despite my complaints about the cinema going public, on the whole, they have become smarter, and more open to that which is alien. However, with this acceptance, they also become more critical. A foreign film is no longer a novelty in the way it was, and we begin to notice that there are bad foreign films as well as the few good ones we were initially exposed to.
All of which leads us to Hero, Yimou Zhang's epic about the events that lead to the unification of China. While sitting on the shelf in English language countries for two years, the film has become a global success, grossing over $100 million without the key market of the US. This is no mean feat, and so raises the bar of expectation of such a film. It's a shame then, that although far from being a bad film, Hero still isn't particularly interesting.In ancient China, we witness the meeting between Nameless (Jet Li) and King Qin (Daoming Chen). Qin is attempting to unify all of China under his rule in an attempt to end civil conflict. Nameless is attempting to become a trusted ally of the King after informing him that he has eliminated the three assassins who have been hunting Qin. Nameless recounts to Qin exactly how he went about defeating Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung).
There is a lot more on offer here, and that is just the setup. The film, in the present, seems to run in something similar to realtime, with the opening showing Nameless arriving at Qin's palace and folllows through until the conclusion of their meeting. It is in flashbacks that the majority of the action occurs, and where the film finds one of it's greatest strengths. Rather than the story simply being told and displayed on screen, we see three different versions of what happened. First we see Nameless' version as he tries to slowly win the trust of the King. Next we see the version that King Qin believes really happened, and finally we see the truth. This is a fascinating way to layout the film, and works in it's favor.This concept could have proved rather boring if not handled correctly, but thankfully Zhang proves himself to be a master of presentation. Each version of events is strikingly different to the last, with some of the most beautiful cinematography that I have ever seen. Color plays an important part in these segments, with each being dominated by one particular color. Glorious scenes of red, blue, and finally white make sure that the screen is always mesmerising to watch.
However, it is during these scenes that the film also encounters some problems. While the fight scenes are gloriously over the top, yet stunning to look at, most of them also last much longer than necessary. This is unfortunate, as one tends to find their mind wandering slightly in the latter stages of most of the fights. I can only hope that the directors cut of the film corrects this, but I find it more likely that these scenes will be extended yet further.Most unfortunate though is the entire lack of any emotional depth from the film. Although it would be easy to argue that a film of this nature doesn't really require any, I have to disagree, as I believe one needs to maintain at least some connection to the characters or events occuring on screen or run the risk of becoming bored. This is a fate that befalls Hero, as with little to no background on the characters and events in front of us, it becomes difficult to care about what ultimately happens. Yes, we watch, and yes, it looks nice, but overall, we couldn't really care less about how it all ends.
Judging acting in a film of this nature is almost a lost cause as the majority of it is made up of fight scenes. The scenes in between though are handled rather well, as should be expected in a film with such a cast. Jet Li doesn't do much, but then he doesn't need to, and this aids the sombre nature of his character. Tony Leung, who I'm starting to think is in every film China produces, is great is always, as is Maggie Cheung, his co-star from In The Mood For Love. That they can play lovers again here without it feeling old is a testament to both of them.Overall, I will not claim that Hero is a bad film, and nor will I warn people away from it, as it is certainly worth a watch. It lacks depth, and will almost definitely not hold up to repeated viewings, but once at least, it is an incredible feast for the eyes. In this respect alone, Hero stands out as being more impressive than any other film I have seen recently. Strengthened by an excellent cast and a unique narrative spin, it is without doubt a fascinating film. It's just a shame that it couldn't go that little bit further and become a great one.
Product Information : Hero (DVD)
Manufacturer's product descriptionSet 2,000 years ago, during the time of the Warring States, when seven kingdoms were battling for dominance, and one leader--the king of Qin (Chen Dao Ming)--was determined to end up victorious and unite all of China as one nation. The proud king is forced to live trapped alone in his palace as a remarkable trio of villains--Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk), and Sky (Donnie Yen)--are out to kill him. But one day a simple country prefect (Jet Li) shows up, announcing that he has killed all three assassins. Identifying himself as Nameless, the prefect tells in great detail how he got rid of the king's sworn enemies.
Listed on Ciao since: 26/03/2003