Review by Ed Nguyen
Jet Li, Chen Dao Ming, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen
Director: Zhang Yimou
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Features: Interview with Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li, storyboards, Hero Defined, soundtrack spot
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: September 15, 2009
any war, there are heroes on both sides."
Yimou is among the premier filmmakers working in China today.
A Fifth Generation (post-Cultural Revolution) filmmaker with a highly
visual directorial style, Zhang has garnered more international awards and
recognition than any other current Chinese director.
Zhang's new films are frequently awaited with eager anticipation, and
among his best-known works are Ju Dou,
Raise the Red Lantern, and To
Yimou's best early films regularly featured his protégée Chinese actress Gong
Li. However, in recent years he has
introduced a new leading lady, young Zhang Ziyi (no relation). First featured in
the director's touching 1999 film The Road
Home, Zhang Ziyi would soon endear herself to western audiences as a
precocious but deadly heroine in Ang Lee's popular Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
In light of the success of Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film, Zhang Yimou was
himself inspired to attempt his own "Wu Xia" saga.
Drawing upon his strength in character-driven dramas, Zhang Yimou fused
dazzling martial artistry with gorgeous cinematography in what was to become the
most expensive Chinese film ever made - Hero
(2002). The epic film was a huge
success in Asia and reunited the director with his protégée Zhang Ziyi, who
would also appear in Zhang Yimou's equally breathtaking martial arts follow-up, The
House of Flying Daggers (2004).
its initial release, Hero was honored
with an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. However, despite its international acclaim, distribution woes
prevented this remarkable film from reaching North American audiences until now.
Fortunately, Hero is a film well worth its accolades and certainly worth the long
Ziyi is featured in Hero, but the
film's true star is Jet Li, an exceptional martial arts champion most familiar
to western audiences through films like Lethal
Weapon 4, The One, and Kiss
of the Dragon. Prior to his
venture into mainstream Hollywood films, however, Jet Li was already an
established mega-star in Asia, particularly for his portrayal of Wong Fei Hung
in the Once Upon a Time in China series.
One of those films, Once Upon a
Time in China 2, placed Li opposite another Hong Kong star, Donnie Yen.
Both men are featured in Hero,
and as the most obviously skilled martial artists in Hero,
Li and Yen provide one of the film's highlights, a dazzling display of martial
arts for an early fight sequence.
while the action in Hero is undeniably
thrilling in its combination of swordplay with
the film opens, the age of Hero is one
of turmoil, an ancient time of the Seven Kingdoms.
Among these great realms is the Kingdom of Qin, whose aggressive ruler is
doggedly pursuing the conquest of the surrounding six kingdoms.
The Qin Emperor's vision, however, calls for more than just mere
conquest. Rather, he dreams of
unification, of creating one nation of Chinese people.
Qin Emperor's aspirations are not shared by everyone, certainly not by
clandestine agents of the other kingdoms. The
Emperor has thus had to live under the constant threat of assassination, and in
this ancient time, there are no assassins more feared than the legendary
warriors of the Kingdom of Zhao - Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow.
assassins are no mere mortals but possess super-human, almost mythical skills.
Flying Snow alone is capable of warding off thousands of arrows and of
defeating hundreds of the Emperor's soldiers.
Broken Sword is not only a master of the blade but also of calligraphy,
and within his powerful brush strokes lies the secret to his swordsmanship.
years, these mythical heroes have conspired to end the Qin Emperor's reign of
virtual terror over the other kingdoms. They
regard him as a blood-thirsty tyrant, an egotistical warmonger with designs on
the murder of innocents rather than their subjugation under a unified banner.
Although their efforts to defeat the Qin Emperor have thus far not
succeeded, the potential threat that these powerful but evasive nemeses pose to
the Qin Emperor has forced him in desperation to issue enormous bounties upon
day, an unlikely man (Jet Li) emerges to claim those bounties.
He is an unnamed citizen of the Kingdom of Qin, a lowly government
Prefect from the district of Lan Meng. Yet,
he has mastered a mysterious and deadly sword technique that has allowed him to
triumph over the Qin Emperor's three deadliest enemies.
As fantastical as his claims may be, the Hero has brought with him
physical evidence of his triumphs.
the majestic pageantry that opens this film, the unnamed Hero is welcomed to the
throne palace, carefully prepared, and then brought before the Emperor himself.
In the Royal presence, the Hero begins a narration of how he first
defeated Sky and then Broken Sword and Flying Snow.
alternates between the Hero's present audience with the Emperor (Chen Dao Ming)
and flashbacks into the Hero's tale. In
the first flashback, we are introduced to Sky (Donnie Yen), a peerless master of
the spear who has just effortlessly brushed aside the hapless efforts of the Qin
Court's seven elite guards to arrest him. But
before Sky can retire from this field of combat, the Hero suddenly appears and
challenges him to a duel. It will
be a contest to the death between the Hero's sword and Sky's silver spear.
What ensues is a spectacular melee, complete with lightning-fast parries
and some incredibly athletic feats of physical prowess by both combatants.
The fight ultimately concludes when Sky's speartip is severed and he is
speartip is the first physical proof brought by the Hero to the Qin Emperor.
In addition, the Hero has brought Broken Sword's cracked blade as well as
Flying Snow's sabre. As the Emperor
listens intently, the Hero continues his epic tale of how he used the fall of
Sky to deceive and defeat both Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie
Cheung). These assassins of Zhao,
though extraordinary in their abilities, still possessed the flaws and
vulnerabilities of mere mortals, and the Hero describes how, by exposing and
exploiting these flaws, he revealed the path to their downfall.
The second flashback incorporates even more dazzling images into the
tale, from a thunderous rain of pouring arrows from the Emperor's attacking
archers to a series of combats between the Hero, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword's
lover, Moon (Zhang Ziyi).
the story to end at this point, it would make for a visually splendid and
entertaining if familiar tale. But Hero
offers much more, expanding into a more probing examination of the Hero's tale
as seen from various perspectives. These
alternate re-tellings of the tale offer subtle insight into the veracity of the
Hero's statements. We the audience
become gradually aware that, as with Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, not everything in Hero
is as it initially appears nor should each character's declarations necessarily
be taken at face value, either. Secret
agendas abound, for the Hero and even for the Qin Emperor.
Lesser films might portray the Qin Emperor as a pure villain, but Hero
provides opposing points of view on his ultimate quest - the epic and tragic
cost of uniting the Chinese people versus the long-term repercussions of
allowing countless years of warring between the Seven Kingdoms to continue
any standard, Hero is quite a
spectacular film. In assembling
together some of the finest Asian actors or martial artists today under the
confident directorial guidance of Zhang Yimou, Hero is the East's reply to Hollywood's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Furthermore, there is some historical truth to Hero, too. The Qin
Kingdom did indeed exist, and its Emperor was actually able to unite all of
China together, creating in the process the Qin Dynasty, one of history's
greatest dynasties. Among
subsequent immortal achievements of the Qin were the constructions of the Great
Wall of China and the Emperor's own majestic tomb, home of a virtual army of
thousands of terracotta stone warriors, his symbolic guardians.
Hero offers a mythical spin to China's
Qin Dynasty and explores the very essence of what defines a "hero,"
its influence may be more far-reaching. This
is one film that may inspire many viewers to actually read more about China's
real and equally fascinating history of the Seven Kingdoms.
How many action films, after all, can boast of such a feat?
looks quite gorgeous in this anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer.
The colors virtually leap off the screen, from the brilliant red and
green hues of the costumes and autumn leaves to the menacing black armor of the
elite archers. Image clarity is
very fine with a solid level of details in either bright or darkened scenes.
I noticed only a trace of grain and no compression artifacts.
With a transfer rate regularly well over 7 Mbps, Hero
delivers the goods in the video department.
Quentin Tarantino may border upon utter mania, but he certainly recognizes a
good film when he sees one. Film
buffs all around should thank Tarantino for his tireless efforts in getting Hero
off Miramax's dusty shelves and into the spotlight.
Included on this disc is an interview (14 min.) with Jet Li, conducted by
Quentin Tarantino. Jet Li briefly
discusses his acting experience as many incredible combat clips from his films
are shown. Unfortunately, the
interview is somewhat marred by a jittery camera that never seems to stay still.
The interview concludes with a tantalizing behind-the-scenes look at the
making of Hero.
(7 min.) are included for some of the action sequences in the film.
These include the "Golden Forest" fight sequence between Flying
Snow and Moon, a "Library" sequence with the Hero, the "Ring of
Iron" combat between the Hero and Flying Snow, and the "Lake"
encounter between the Hero and Broken Sword.
There is also a "Close Up of a Fight Scene" featurette for a more in-depth
look at the action.
There is also a "Close Up of a Fight Scene" featurette for a more in-depth look at the action.
The standout feature on the disc is "Hero Defined", a 24-minute featurette about the making of the film. It starts with a backstory concerning how Zhang Yimou developed the film over a period of two years prior to completing The Road Home. Production shots are then shown of the action sequences and huge spectacle scenes, many of which involved the actual participation of the Chinese army. The principal actors as well as Zhang Yimou discuss their view of the film and of the challenges of shooting in many spectacular if remote regions of China.
there is a quick advertisement spot for Hero's
score. If the music sounds
reminiscent of the score for Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that is because both films share the same composer -
the award-winning Tan Dun!