Beautiful but hollow Chinese epic
By Philip Concannon
, 25 Sep 2004
The first thing that strikes you about 'Hero' is undoubtedly how damn beautiful the whole thing is. Every frame of this Chinese epic is beautifully crafted by director Zhang Yimou and genius cinematographer Christopher Doyle. It truly is a film full of extraordinary sights quite unlike anything I've ever seen, and a look at the cast list seems to promise one of the great movies. But then something unfortunate happens, the plot kicks in.
The story of Hero takes place in a China divided into seven seperate kingdoms. The King of the largest of these, Qin(Daoming Chen) is determined to take control of all of these provinces so that peace can reign throughout a unified China. So he's delighted that Nameless(Jet Li) has turned up at his palace claiming to have killed the three assassins threatening his position - Broken Sword(Tony Leung), Flying Snow(Maggie Cheung) and Sky(Donnie Yeung).
The King invites Nameless to drink with him and receive his reward, but first he'd like to hear how such a lowly character managed to kill his three deadly foes, and Nameless proceeds, with the aid of some colourful flashbacks, to tell us. But then The King tells Nameless what he think really happened and, 'Rashomon' -style, we get to see a different spin on the story, with a different colour code.
It's a pretty thin plot on which to hang such a grand style of filmmaking, and it doesn't really work. The film is reduced to a series of stunning set-pieces and fights, and more fights, and then a few more.
The fight sequences in 'Hero' are simply too much. The actors spend so often floating through the air and engaging in slow-motion combat that it quickly becomes tedious. The similar sequences in 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' worked because there weren't half as many of them, and at the time it was genuinely something new. Here, the changing costumes and settings aren't enough to disguise the repetetive nature of the fights.
The reason we remain interested throughout 'Hero' is mainly down to the wonderful cast. Jet Li is fine in the lead role, but the film surely belongs to the magnificent duo of Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. As in 'In the Mood for Love', their scenes together are electric and it's the moments of calm reflection they share that live in the memory beyond any of the battles. They are two awesome actors at the top of their game and it's a joy to watch.
Daoming Chen is also hugely impressive as the King, while Donnie Yeung and Zhang Ziyi are both underused.
'Hero' never really grabbed me, but for the most part the film is at least so incredible to look at that some of it's faults can be overlooked. The ravishing colours may mean you find it hard to tear your eyes away, even while you yawn.
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