Hero (2002)

Posted in Reviews by - November 23, 2013
Hero (2002)

Hero is a magnificent movie; like looking at wuxia cinema through a kaleidoscope. Chinese arthouse director Zhang Yimou brings together an ensemble of exquisite talent to create a period martial arts tale of epic proportions – one which references the wuxia films of old (namely Chang Cheh’s 1967 masterpiece, The Assassin), but feels strikingly original thanks in no small part to Australian cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, and some of the most breathtaking visuals ever captured in an action movie. At times the film is quite overwhelming, and a small screen could never do it justice. Hero is the story of China’s first Emperor, Lord Qin, and his unification of the seven kingdoms. He faces assassination at every turn. Superior swordsman, Nameless (Jet Li), is brought in to protect him, detailing the story of how he quashed a rebellious attack engineered by Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and his wife, Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). Lord Qin, however, has contrasting views on the plight of his nameless warrior, and in a series of skewed flashbacks, the film slowly reveals the truth behind the uprising. Yimou bathes each retrospect with shades of varying colour as to not confuse the viewer. We see Broken Sword duel with Lord Qin in a cavalcade of luscious greens, and yellow autumn leaves are playfully jostled around via the mind control of master sword-fighters Flying Snow and her female servant, Moon (Zhang Ziyi), both wearing striking red garments. The film is not really about the pursuit of truth. At its heart, this is a human tale rooted in honour, love and loyalty during one of China’s most chaotic period. The action sequences rival the visuals in their remarkable aplomb. Choreographed by wire-fu maestro Tony Ching, Jet Li and Donnie Yen clash sabres in a rain-drenched set-piece near the film’s start – which is utterly beguiling – and in another classic sequence, Jet Li and Tony Leung glide across a still lake with all the balletic grace of birds in flight. With Miramax backing, Hero was launched hot-on-the-heels of Crouching Tiger in the west, but this is no cash-in, and there is so much to distinguish the two. An astonishing, tremendous film.

AKA: Jet Li’s HeroQuentin Tarantino Presents Hero.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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