Before ancient China was united under one emperor, the Six Kingdoms were at constant war with each other. One of the rulers, Qin (Daoming Chen), gains so much power that assassins are sent by the other leaders against him. A young, minor functionary called Nameless (Jet-Li) claims that he has killed the three skilled executioners sent to dispatch Qin, who is intrigued by the man’s story. As Nameless tells his tales of one-on-one battles he draws closer and closer to the powerful ruler in “Hero.”
Maestro director Zhang Yimou enters the realm of Chinese legend and martial arts action with a story written by the helmer, Feng Li and Bin Wang. Nameless intrigues Qin with his declaration that he has killed the three famed assassins, Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). At first, Qin makes Nameless keep his distance as the young man recalls his death battle with Sky, punctuating the telling by giving the ruler Sky’s fabled lance. The gift gains Nameless a seat closer to Qin.
He next recounts how he bested the legendary Broken Sword in battle and gives the ruler that warrior’s famed weapon, gaining a seat even closer to Qin. His final tale of his awesome fight with Flying Snow seals Qin’s belief in the young man’s loyalty. This simple story takes on dynamic proportions as the film unfolds and everything is not as it seems. The Rashomon-like viewpoints and plot twists make “Hero” a thought provoking film that keeps you guessing, hoping and caring about the lives of the characters.
As if a good story, well acted and directed, is not enough, Yimou takes it a dimension further with the spectacular behind-the-camera work. First and foremost of the masterly techs is the brilliant cinematography by the unsung hero of the lens, Christopher Doyle. This visionary Australian cameraman has graced the world of cinema in the Pacific Basin countries for over two decades and has expertly lensed such diverse films as “In the Mood for Love,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” The Quiet American” and ”Last Life in the Universe.” His contribution to “Hero” is, in a word, beautiful, giving the film a rich, stunning look.
Also contributing to the incredible look of “Hero” are the tremendous efforts accomplished with production design and costume. Tingxiao Huo and Zhenzhou Yi steep the look of the film in the splendor of ancient China and, combined with the huge supporting cast, make for some of the most impressive images I’ve seen since Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor.” Emi Wada’s beautiful, flowing costume design lends visual grace to the film, too.
The wire work used to give fantastic movement to the characters is similar to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” but looks a vast improvement on the technique. One scene, where Nameless does battle over a lake with Broken Sword, is an incredible combination of technical work and choreography. Dun Tan’s majestic score does the film justice.
It is a real pleasure to see a martial arts/action/fantasy that also stirs your heart and mind. “Hero” is such a film. I give it an A.
Laura gives "Hero" an A.
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