Hero (2002)

Brief synopsis: A defense officer, Nameless, was summoned by the King of Qin regarding his success of terminating three warriors.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0299977/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Whose chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I picked this movie for two reasons. First, I wanted to include some foreign entries on my list in the hopes of getting a more diverse set of films throughout the year. Second, I had seen this film (albeit nearly 15 years ago) and recalled the visuals and fight scenes to be quite breathtaking, so I wanted to see it again.

Leah’s Review:

Typically, movies of the “martial-arts” variety do not appeal to me. Not that I don’t think Karate or Kung Fu isn’t fascinating, but most movies featuring martial arts always strike me as looking a little tacky or over-the-top (with the exception of Rush Hour which, of course, is a cinema masterpiece). However, I was intrigued by “Hero”. The clips I had seen from it featured gorgeous cinematography (you’ll find from this blog that I am a sucker for a movie with beautiful cinematography) and spectacular fight scenes. I also knew that Quentin Tarantino was attached to the movie (he promoted it in the U.S. since it was only popular in Asia) and I’ve always found work that he is involved with to be interesting and entertaining.

If you’re someone who like a good story-line, “Hero” may not be for you. It’s a simple enough plot, but you won’t find much dialogue and at times, it can be hard to follow. The story of the hero, Nameless (played by the talented Jet Li), is told from three different perspectives- his own, the King’s, and lastly- the perspective of what really happened. This gets confusing at times especially if you’re not paying close attention.

The best part about “Hero” is undoubtedly its cinematography. Every shot is beautifully done and every scene looks like a work of art. Each part of the story has a different color scheme (which I find to be absolutely captivating) and uses the natural elements of each environment to make each scene unique and memorable. With well-choreographed and sometimes truly unbelievable (as in, the characters are literally flying in the air at times) fight scenes, it can come off as being over-the-top, but not so if you are able to suspend your imagination. It’s fantasy at its best.

I don’t really see this “Hero” as being something to be appreciated for its story line or character development (I could be mistaken). It’s more like a piece of masterful artwork that is to be admired. It’s a treat for the eyes. You may not come away from watching it gaining any new insights, but I think it’s a hour and a half well spent.

Brent’s Review:

“Hero” is a Chinese film with an emphasis on martial arts — particularly sword fighting and wire-fighting — as a means of storytelling. It is directed by Yimou Zhang, who is known for his colorful visual palette and his work within this particular genre. “Hero” is certainly a genre film, but I was surprised on my second viewing just how deeply the story is laced within the superficial aspects that originally attracted me to the story.

I want to establish a clear truth about “Hero”: it’s no secret that the reason you will want to see this film is because of its excellence in the areas of cinematography and choreography. On a technical level, the fight scenes are superb and inventive; every fight scene has a unique color style and visual trick. Without giving away plot details, I will say that the film revolves around four assassins and these same four assassins fight each other several times. Each rendition of these battles, however, adds a unique twist that changes the impact of the scene, whether they be a wrinkle in the staging, blocking, or color scheme used. No two battles are the same and they are always entertaining.

But it is in my repeat viewing that I noticed how layered the film is. Zhang’s blocking of each scene emphasizes the beautiful details often overlooked in a traditional “action” set piece. The film’s first fight, for instance, often cuts away to show the details of the surrounding, even as we hear the metal of the swords crash into each other in the background. As the movie progresses, the swordplay starts to look less like battles and more like sword-dancing, with each dance featuring new steps, rhythms, and notes than the ones that came before them.

The pacing of the film recalls the classic Sergio Leone western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Tension is built slowly and deliberately and the payoffs are milked for all their value. For another nod and wink to Leone’s work, even the main character is called “Nameless”, recalling Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” character. Whether the inspiration was intentional I do not know, but this American viewer can spot the similarities.

“Hero” is not a film you would wish to see for the acting, but I was impressed by the performances of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as “Broken Sword” and Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk as “Flying Snow”. The two characters play assassins and lovers — the two pieces of their relationship intertwine several times throughout the film and help deliver a beautiful climax that, in my opinion, overshadows the dominant narrative. I’m excited I will get a chance to see these two actors again later this year in “In the Mood For Love”.

The colors and choreography certainly add texture to the film. I am certain there is imagery I missed, misunderstood, or have misinterpreted. I think the film works on many levels and is worth checking out if you’re even remotely interested in martial arts.

Next up: We’ll be heading to the theaters again, this time to check out Martin Scorsese’s new film “Silence”, starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson. Full disclosure: this is the movie Brent is most looking forward to this year.

Peace out, kids.

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