This film was a memorable part of my filmmaking passion and academic work. It’s a masterful work originally released in China in 2002 then in the U.S. in June 2004.
Finally, the amazing film Hero (Ying xiong), China’s highest grossing film ever and Academy Award® nominee for best foreign language film, comes to the United States. I had the privilege of viewing the original Chinese version last year and am relieved Miramax has made few changes (mostly in translation and subtitles) in this version. One change that greatly enhances the film is a map of the territories in China, which gives a nice visual reference of the Chinese kingdoms at this time in history.
Hero enhances the action/martial arts film genre by adding special effects, drama and other elements that become very noticeable especially because they break typical genre conventions.
Originally released in China in December 2002, director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, The Road Home) creates his first martial arts (wuxia) film with an excellent plot, cast and crew. Jet Li stars as the main character Nameless who travels to the Qin King’s palace. His phenomenal martial arts work combines with steady dramatic acting which culminates into his best performance yet.
Yimou uses very emotional approaches to understand character’s motives, especially the usually tyrannically portrayed Qin King, well played by Daoming Chen, an important Chinese historical figure who strives to become emperor of China and beyond.
The plot also involves four key characters who resist the conquering Qin kingdom. Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey, Shanghai Knights) plays Sky, a master with the spear.
Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays Broken Sword while the beautiful Maggie Cheung plays his lover Flying Snow. Both stars have great chemistry (they previously starred together in the film In the Mood for Love) that adds romantic elements to the plot.
The lovely Zhang Ziyi (Rush Hour 2, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) plays Moon, an apprentice to her master Broken Sword.
The plot weaves deep rooted vengeance and mostly bloodless violence amid the flashbacks and subplots involving Nameless and the other four characters. The main plot focuses on Nameless’ interaction with the Qin King inside the palace and reveals each character’s true motives.
The diverse characters compliment each other well and help the audience piece together the culture contexts, but each character’s role in the main plot creates the largest results, especially in the ending climax. The special effects in this film, one of China’s most expensive films ever, play an important role as well.
Yimou uses vibrant color palettes of red, white, blue and green to paint beautiful scenes with veteran cinematographer Christopher Doyle and Academy Award® winning costume designer Emi Wada.
Academy Award® winning composer Tan Dun creates a fantastic musical score that features violin work from Itzhak Perlman.
Hero never directly addresses the viewer, but draws the spectator into an expertly constructed world with great success. The amazing beauty of the visuals appealed to my emotions and really got my attention.
Highly recommended (****) and rated PG-13 for stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality.