Hero (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner23/09/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 95 mins

Contrary to what you may have heard, Hero isn’t as good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - it has gorgeous photography and some terrific fight sequences, but the story fails to engage on an emotional level.

If Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon whetted your appetite for another martial arts film in which swordfights take place between characters who seem to float on air, then Hero could be the film you’ve been waiting for.

Directed by Zhang Yimou (who made Raise The Red Lantern), it is reportedly the most expensive film in Chinese history. Like Crouching Tiger, it is firmly within the ‘wushu’ genre (roughly translated, this means ‘Heroic Warrior’) and serves up several impressive fight scenes.

However, unlike Crouching Tiger (and comparisons are, unfortunately, inevitable), it fails to engage on an emotional level and the story is uninvolving as a result.

Set In 3rd Century BC

The film is set in third century BC China. Jet Li plays a nameless assassin called, er, Nameless, who comes to the imperial court of the powerful King of Qin (Chen Dao Ming), in order to tell him how he has defeated the King’s three greatest enemies: Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Long Sky (Donnie Yen). As Nameless spins his various yarns in flashback, the King realises that he may not be telling the truth, so we get several different versions, Rashomon-style.

The photography, by Christopher Doyle, is incredibly beautiful – frankly, it’s the main reason to see the film. One breath-taking fight scene in particular takes place against a sumptuous backdrop of bright red leaves.

In fact, each of the fight scenes are colour-coded, although there doesn’t seem to be any link between the colours and the scenes themselves. Still, who cares, when it looks this good?

Suitably Inscrutable Hero

As Nameless, Jet Li makes a suitably inscrutable hero, whose tales may or may not be hiding an ulterior motive. Maggie Cheung is also impressive as Flying Snow, particularly during the exciting attack on the calligraphy house where she fends off hundreds of arrows using only her particularly sturdy sleeves.

Ziyi Zhang (who recently changed her name around to fit the western style) is also on hand for Shallow And Obvious Reasons, not to mention a little arse-kicking of her own.

Hero has several great fight sequences (other highlights include the duel in the rain) and is undeniably beautiful to look at. However, the multi-layered, unreliably narrated structure of the story means that we never really get to know any of the characters properly and as a result, there’s no emotional hook to the plot.

To sum up, Hero is definitely worth watching for the stunning photography and the sheer spectacle of some of the scenes. At the very least it’ll serve as an appetiser for Zhang Yimou’s follow-up film (due out 24th December and playing at the London Film Festival) House of Flying Daggers, which is said to be even better.

Film Trailer

Hero (12A)
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Content updated: 19/07/2018 07:10

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