Hero (2002) Review

"Hero" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Hero" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Zhang Yimou
Producer: William Kong, Zhang Yimou
Writer: Wang Bin, Feng Li, Zhang Yimou
Cast: Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Donnie Yen, Zhang Ziyi, Chen Dao Ming, James Pak Chin Sek, Liu Zhong Yuan, Zheng Tian Yong, Qin Yan, Cao Hua
Running Time: 96/120 min.

By Dragon Ma

Hero is like a Chinese painting come to life, the colours are vibrant and stunning. Chris Doyle became a god of cinematography with this film. His use of colour is unmatched, the fight between Flying Snow and Moon is quite literally stunning as they fight wearing red dresses while yellow leaves fly around, it’s jaw dropping. There are more scenes like that and each one is staggering. The attack on the calligraphy school is another highlight as we follow an arrow up in the air, crashing through the roof and hitting it’s target, it’s a fucking awesome shot.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film which has used colour in this way, every shot is absolutely gorgeous, it’s one of the most beautiful looking films I’ve ever seen; but, a film is nothing if there’s no substance behind it and I have to say it’s a great story well told. Some would argue about it’s message, but I thought it was pretty clear cut that Qin wanted a unified China no matter how many people he has to kill to achieve it and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It’s a bit of a grey area to me, I’m not up on my Chinese history so I wouldn’t argue whether Zhang Yimou is correct in showing China can only be unified ‘All Under Heaven’.

The martial arts is what you’d expect, just jaw-dropping. Tony Ching has outdone himself here, every fight is an exercise in grace and style, none of YWP’s realism but that’s ok, this film doesn’t need it, it works just fine within the context of the film.

Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung both give amazing performances in this film, they wring every ounce of emotion and heartbreak through their relationship together. Jet is Jet, he’s a charisma machine and a fine actor as this film proves. The films focus seems to be on the relationship between Broken Sword and Flying Sword so Jet has little to work with but he does fine with what he has, that’s not a criticism of his acting, just his character. His fight with Donnie Yen is superb as you’d expect, it’s one of the finest martial arts displays ever committed to celluloid.

Finally, the music in this film is brilliant, very haunting, very sad and full of sorrow, just like the film.

What else can be said about this film, I think I’ve said all I can say. There really are no words to describe how stunning this film is, it’s an immense achievement.

Dragon Ma’s Rating: 10/10

By Cobak

When I first heard of this film about a year ago, I thought to myself, “wow, this movie has everything”… A great cast: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Zhang Ziyi; A great director: Zhang Yimou; A great DP: Chris Doyle; A Great Choreographer: Tony Ching Siu Tung; and a great score: Tan Dun. Now, a year later, and having seen this film, all my expectations have been filled and then some…

The movie takes place at the Qin Palace with Nameless (Jet Li) telling the Emperor 4 different stories that eventually lead up to the truth. The four stories are uniquely told by representing each story with 4 colors: Red, Blue, White and Green. Its amazing. The clothes, sets, props, everything is so precise and unique, really detaching every story from one another. I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever…

The characters are great, and with so many main ones it’s hard to focus on all for the whole length of a movie. Zhang Yimou has done this tremendously, giving all them sufficient time on screen, with the exception of Donnie Yen who is only in this film for the first 15 minutes. These first 15 minutes just happens to be a fight scene with Jet Li. Yeah, forget Once Upon a Time in China 2, this is it folks: Jet vs Donnie, and it’s raining in the scene. After seeing this duel, I was thinking “can it get any better?”, and the answer is “Yes”. The lack of Donnie was a bad thing, and despite his appearance in some later flashbacks, they were just clips from the first 15 minutes, but that aside, there are way more positive aspects of this film…

Christopher Doyle has proved himself again to be one of the great cinematographers of our time, this man is amazing. The color in this film is just jaw dropping. I even missed a few lines of subtitles just gazing at the backgrounds and amazing detail in this film. Again, this screams epic and Chris Doyle should win an Oscar for his work – if and when he would ever be nominated for this film.

The martial-arts in this film is also amazing. Choreographed by the amazing Tony Ching Siu Tung. Each character has there own unique weapon and fighting style. With a lot less “dancing and prancing” than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and since there are 4 stories you get to see most of the fight scenes more than once. Oh, and I forgot to mention Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung take on 5000 troops…amazing.

Tan Dun won an Oscar for his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon score, and this one is just a worthy. Even though it sadly lacks Yo Yo Ma, this score is less soft and touchy. It has louder percussion and has guys chanting and yelling in the background which kicks ass. You can hear elements of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon throughout the score, and this proves to be just as good if not slightly better in my view (maybe because this is a better film). On this print of the film, it didn’t have the Faye Wong track so I can’t comment on that. I guess I’ll have to wait for my copy of the soundtrack. So even with no Yo Yo, another great score for Tan Dun.

Every aspect of this film combines some of the most talented people in the industry, and this proves to be a powerful driving force behind this Epic film. They all come together to make a very powerful, and emotional film with a powerful message. This film will be compared to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as it should I guess, but is ultimately better. I love Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and without that film we would not get to see the greatness that is Hero. This goes down as the best movie of 2002 for me. Do yourself a favor and see this movie.

Cobak’s Rating: 10/10

By Equinox21

If one word can be used to describe this film it would be “epic”. Hero is epic in every sense of the word. From shots of 10,000 soldiers standing in front of the palace or marching to battle to seeing, literally, thousands of arrows flying towards a town, tearing through it like it was wet tissue paper and leaving it looking like some sort of strange porcupine. The movie takes place at the Qin palace, with 3 different flashbacks/retellings of the story leading up to the current time (with a fourth flashback within a flashback). So as not to give any of the story away, I’ll leave it simply at that. However, there is one thing that makes the flashbacks stand out and become truly memorable. Each one uses a different overriding color. The first is red, second is blue, the third white and fourth (within the third) is green. By this I mean that all the scenery, clothes, props, etc. are all those colors, and they are in no way subtle with the use of color. It is an extremely effective and very impressive use of color in a way I have never seen before.

This brings me to Christopher Doyle as Director of Photography. The film was beautifully shot, in the epic scale, angles (during intimate scenes and during fight scenes), and use of color. I was surprised to see Christopher Doyle’s name in the credits, but it made perfect sense and his talent definitely shows through. I have no doubt that he would have been at least nominated for an Academy Award had Miramax not tragically destroyed Hero’s chances of even being considered. I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and thought it was beautiful film, but Hero blows it away. The epic portions feel far more epic, and the individual stories feel far more intimate and insulated from the outside world. This is a film that absolutely needs to be SEEN by anyone considering themselves a fan of art films (even though Hero isn’t REALLY an art film).

The characters were all tremendously acted. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that Tony Leung (Broken Sword) had known swordplay as long as Jet Li (No Name) and Donnie Yen (Sky). Which brings me to another item; Forget Once Upon A Time In China 2, Hero now has the best fight between Jet and Donnie on film. Maggie Cheung (Flying Snow) was great as always, and her romance with Tony (how many times have we seen this in movies, now?) was well done. They didn’t get sappy and show how they fell in love or even any background about it, they just took it as point of fact. But of course, even their relationship was chock full of jealousy, infidelity, and revengeÉ or was it? You’d have to see it to fully understand. All I can say is, “Poor Tony!” Zhang Ziyi played a minor role, that of Moon, Broken Sword’s apprentice/servant.

My biggest complaint about the movie is the fact that Donnie is on screen for 15 minutes at the most, and all within the first maybe 20 minutes of the film. He’s supposed to have such an important character, yet he’s only talked about after his initial appearance. My guess would that this was again due to the Miramax touch. Donnie isn’t a star in this country, at least not as big a star as Zhang Ziyi. So she gets 3 times the screen time he gets, and he’s supposed to be one of the more important characters while she’s a relatively minor one. Not that I don’t want to see Ziyi on screen, I just wanted to see far more of Donnie. Especially as his character develops without him even being on screen while it happens. This is the one major drawback I saw in the film.

And like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, we are treated to yet another Tan Dun score. This one wasn’t quite as emotion evoking as was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s, but it was still good nonetheless. But to be perfectly honest, it didn’t even stand out that greatly. It was more simple background music than really moving themes. But maybe I just wasn’t listening for it as much.

So, to conclude I would say, “go see this movie, it is beautiful”. While the story doesn’t include as much of a love story element as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did, it is full of far more intrigue and subterfuge, with a more epic scale (that of protecting/assassinating an emperor as opposed to revenge for a fallen master). And, while I know it’s probably wrong to compare Hero to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it is the closest example there is to compare it to, that’s the only reason I do it. That said I’d watch Hero over Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 99 out of 100 times.

Equinox21’s Rating: 9/10 (-1 because of the lack of Donnie, most likely thanks, at least in part, to Miramax for that disgrace)

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