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)"
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In pre-unified china two thousand years ago, the emperor of the largest of seven kingdoms forbids anyone to come within a hundred paces of him, through fear of assassination. But when a nameless sheriff claims to have killed his three most dangerous enemies, he is allowed within close proximity of the ruler. But the more the king hears of Nameless’ exploits, the stronger his paranoia becomes. Is he right to fear the nameless warrior?Director and former cinematographer Zhang Yimou is well known for his visual flair and lyrical style. Like many Chinese directors, he makes films that focus on universal themes. “Hero” is a film that is both very Eastern and very Western reflecting the multi-national crew that put it together. It is an epic mystical tale of heroism, loyalty, love and sacrifice. Its subject is intrinsically Asian, based as it is on historical folklore but does not require knowledge of Chinese history to appreciate it. It is a lavish movie that doesn’t skimp on action, but doesn’t throw in a load of martial arts sequences for the hell of it. Everything in the film has a purpose. It has a multi-perspective format that is similar to “Rashomon” that seeks to mislead the audience and protagonists and to make them question the veracity of the whole story. The pacing of the film is a little odd – the fight sequences are frenetic but the expository scenes in between are much slower and meditative. Though the film is only ninety-nine minutes long, after watching the film it seems much longer; not in a negative way, but because it is such a rich story. Its action sequences are superficially satisfying, but there are deeper meditations about the nature of truth and sacrifice to be gleaned.
Unusually for a film that has so many main characters, Yimou has resisted the temptation to throw in lots of exposition, concentrating more on the story at hand than the backgrounds of the characters. Relationships are explained contextually through a number of layered performances. Maggie Cheung stands out particularly as Flying Snow, giving several very different but nonetheless believable spins on the character. She is also a skilled and balletic martial artist, who is totally at home with any number of weapons and fighting styles, as well as the demands of working wire rigs. Tony Leung Chiu Wai manages the transition from cold-blooded assassin to contemplative monk figure with aplomb. Zhang Ziyi impresses in a small supporting role, once more displaying the star quality that made her such a hit in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Daoming Chen is impassive and wily as the King of Qin. Donnie Yen is perhaps underused as assassin Sky, but his brief appearance is imposing. Jet Li’s performance is difficult to quantify because we see so little of him. For a martial artist he has a strong grasp on the importance of stillness and it is this that makes him so impressive when he steps up and lets fly with fists and feet. But he is also capable of conveying complex emotions with subtle facial expressions. That being said, his is the character who remains the greatest mystery throughout, as if he is already a myth when he walks into the story.Though the actors are all very good, the real stars of the movie are behind the camera. Every shot is a sumptuous masterpiece. Frames are filled with saturated colours and each version of the story has its own colour scheme, each reflecting an aspect of the feng shui philosophy – blue and black for water, green for wood, red for fire, white for metal and orange for earth. These colours are then juxtaposed with opposing natural elements or colours to give a layered feel. So we see volleys of black arrows fired at a calligraphy school populated by red robed students and green robed warriors before a cascading waterfall. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle is also a master at framing his subjects for maximum impact. So we are treated to characters surrounded by hundreds of extras or picked out in vast landscapes. It is the cinematography that creates the epic feel of the film. David Lean would be envious of the dramatic vistas we are plied with.
The fight sequences are beautifully realised and owe a great deal to traditional images of superhuman warriors who even defeat the laws of gravity. The action is a triumph of choreography and cinematography. Fight choreographer Wei Tung has made the most of the assembled cast and their various skills. So we see Jet Li and Donnie Yen pitted against each other in a whirling dervish of a battle while raindrops bounce and slide off them. Maggie Cheung and Zhang Zi Yi perform an aerial ballet in an autumnal forest clearing, whipping up swirls of yellow leaves. There is a breathtaking confrontation on a lake, where the combatants feet and swords graze the water. It is spectacular and magical in a way that few other films could manage and throughout, the actors still manage to act.The costumes reflect the colour schemes of the different chapters and are remarkable for their attention to detail and the texture. Indeed, they look so good that you can almost feel the fabrics. The score is an interesting yet appropriate combination of east and west. Israeli violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman is accompanied by the Kodo drummers of Japan, fusing to create a stirring and emotive aural landscape that seems perfectly in tune (if you’ll pardon the pun) with the film’s epic aspirations.
All foreign films can live or die by the quality of their subtitles and thankfully those employed here are of the same high quality as the rest of the production.This is a film that will appeal to those who enjoy historical pictures, martial arts films or good old-fashioned epics. Zhang Yimou and his team and have put together a beautiful, thought-provoking action movie on an epic scale that doesn’t require foreknowledge of the subject matter or the iron constitution of a three hour-long movie. If subtitles put you off watching it, try to overcome your prejudices and go and see it anyway, it’s one of those films that people will talk about for years to come as the perfect synthesis of form and function. It’s beautiful, beguiling and rewarding to watch.
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