HERO cries out for an easy one-word review of "Wow!" Nominated for the 2003
Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film, the breathtaking HERO (YING
XIONG) is directed brilliantly by Yimou Zhang, who also did TO LIVE, one of my
personal favorites. The obvious comparison is between this film and CROUCHING
TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (the winner of 2001's Foreign Language Oscar), but HERO is
superior on every level. Hero is also better than NOWHERE IN AFRICA, which won
the Oscar in 2003.
Set two thousand years ago, the plot involves a nameless warrior, sometimes
addressed as Master Nameless, who becomes a hero. The king of Qin (Daoming
Chen), one of seven warring regions of what is today known as China, has
trouble sleeping at night since his rivals in the other areas want him dead.
Nameless, played with stone-cold precision by Jet Li, kills all of the
assassins who are out to kill the king. There are, however, other
interpretations of the events.
However they are interpreted, the movie's fighting episodes are absolutely
stunning, with each trying for masterpiece status. Of the many good ones, my
favorite is a battle between two female warriors. As they swirl around above
the ground in a carefully choreographed ballet of a battle, their swords create
a storm among the autumn leaves. With the fighters' blood red gowns flapping
in the breeze, the golden leaves serve as a picturesque backdrop. Another
fight between two males is an interior sequence with big bellowing curtains of
bright turquoise. Yet another is set just slightly above the waters of a
placid mountain lake. The warriors drop down briefly to dip the tips of their
large swords into the water as if they are coating them with a secret poison.
Finally, the movie argues effectively that learning the art of calligraphy is a
prerequisite to becoming a great swordfighter.
Like an opera in visuals and music, the movie also shares some of the silliness
of an opera's plot. In addition to the aforementioned, Mr. Nameless, the other
characters are called Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Snow (Maggie Cheung), Moon
(Zhang Ziyi) and Sky (Donnie Yen). Although there are plenty of special
effects in the film, it appears to be a cast of thousands of extras rather than
a cast of thousands of CGI characters, but who knows. What is sure is that
this is a film that will take your breath away.
HERO runs 1:36. It is rated PG-13 for "stylized martial arts violence and a
scene of sensuality" and would be acceptable for kids around 10 and up.
Copyright © 2004 Steve Rhodes