Hero [Yin Xiong]
by Erin Paulson
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Hero tells the tale of a nameless government official in the kingdom of Qin in ancient China, played by Jet Li, who gets to drink with the emperor after killing his three most wanted assassins. The audience is led through three retellings of how Li accomplished this spectacular task, an allusion to the methods of Kurosawa’s Rashomon. It is a story of always standing up for what you believe in, no matter the cost, and the honor of self-sacrifice.
If you’ve seen or heard anything about Yimou Zhang’s Hero, you may have inaccurately assumed it to be another Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although the two films are indisputably from the same genre, and both costar the beautiful Ziyi Zhang, in my opinion Hero is a far more successful film. I honestly feel that no words could adequately articulate why I love this film so much, but I’m here to try.
The U.S. advertisements have presented Jet Li as the film’s star, as he is the most well known here in the States, but the film really belongs to Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Infernal Affairs, In the Mood for Love) and Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love), whose onscreen chemistry enchants the viewer from beginning to end. Their love story is subtle and romantic, portraying a legendary true love and all of its aspects, including the more negative sides of anger and jealousy. Their characters Broken Sword and Flying Snow are the glue that holds the story together, providing the opportunity for the audience to understand the characters motivations from scene to scene. Jet Li’s character, Nameless, on the other hand, strikes no loyalty or interest in me whatsoever. His acting leaves much to be desired; he should stick to action sequences and have less dialogue. Throughout the entire film he shows no emotion whatsoever. I’m not convinced by his attempts to be angry or impassioned, nor do I ultimately care what happens to him. It is odd that the title role deserves so little attention from the audience. Whether this was a deliberate choice or not, somehow I really cant find the energy to care.
Although the lack of interest in Nameless could well destroy any other film of less caliber, I find myself so encompassed by the visuals that his lack of complexity seems almost trivial. Every technical aspect in the film, from cinematography to sound, from editing to art direction, obliterates the competition within only a few moments. The use of color in the film is obvious to even the most casual viewer, as every new chapter in the story utilizes a different color scheme. This detail definitely helps to make the films aesthetics so striking, in addition to the spectacular camera shots. Filmed by Christopher Doyle (The Quiet American), Hero contains, without doubt or hesitation, some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen. There is one fight scene in particular, between Flying Snow and Ziyi Zhang’s character, Moon, that is particularly stunning, in which the two women are surrounded by falling leaves in a yellow wood. In addition there are several shots of the Qin army that are awe-inspiring and cinematically massive, intimidating the audience in the same way as the characters, showing an utterly inconceivable force.
Although the aesthetics of Hero are duly impressive, at times I feel the dialogue is quite lacking, mainly between Nameless and the Emperor. However, to be fair it is unclear whether the dialogue is actually that melodramatic and unrealistic, or if it is merely a poor translation in the subtitles. Either way it contributes to the lack of believability in the storyline. But then, since when are epic Samurai films supposed to be believable?
Although there are certainly some flaws in Hero, it has definitely earned its place in my top ten. If you have ever enjoyed Asian cinema in the past, then you owe it to yourself to see one of the most beautiful films to ever come out of China. And if you haven’t really seen any Chinese cinema, then don’t miss you chance to be introduced when Hero is released in U.S. theatres on August 20 (limited).
Erin Paulson is a film reviewer for Film Monthly and a photographer and cinematographer in Chicago.
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