Well it’s been about two years since I first saw Zhang Yimou’s Hero and, at long last, I am getting around to writing a review. Sure this has to do with finally seeing it on the movie screen and it finally receiving a general release but my point is that I am in no way vain-glorious enough to believe that whatever audience this may very well reach is in anyway exclusive to HC and it is likely that that those of you reading this right now have already read alternate reviews if not already seen the film itself. I am, however, enough of an egotist to to put forward my opinion into the public forum so here we go.
What I thought about Hero by me. Ahem.
Well, let’s just start by saying it is an absolute godsend to see Jet Li out of Hollywood. Apart from the quite entertaining Romeo Must Die, I don’t think I’ll be drawing too much flame bait by saying his movies made in the US were terrible. Generally the only good things in those films was his presence and even that often got botched. In Hero, however, he shines in the manner we have grown to appreciate him in. Not merely is his superb martial ability demonstrated once again but the subdued nature of his character, Nameless, is the kind Jet Li excels at. While this may sound like a backhanded comment upon his ability, there is no denying that he works best with a level of stoicism that masks, yet not quite hides, internal conflicts. The role is not particularly simple either as he plays both the objective outsider as an omniscient narrator and the protagonist central to the narrative simultaneously. It’s this conflict between distance and proximity that is absolutely core to the film.
Yet it seems that this theme is what draws the greatest criticism from detractors of the film. The conflict that exists over the prioritisation of the collective over the individual is one that still seems strong despite the “death of communism”. The interpretation that this is a justification and pandering to certain ideals or factions barely scratched the surface of the discourse that runs through Hero. Nonetheless, it is a philosophical and moral discussion which is not entirely appropriate here (well perhaps it is but I DO have a festival to watch and exams to study for so…).
Despite the thematic depth, the visuals of the film are just breathtaking. It IS a Christopher Doyle film so that isn’t TOO surprising. The design and colour of the film is incredible, in particular the thematic approach based around certain sections of the film. If one is not impressed by the cat fight in the forest alone, then apologies because modern medicine cannot help you.
Apart from Jet’s return, the performances of the rest of the star-cast are equally without par. The chemistry between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung that was central to In the Mood for Love is reprised, in a generally less subtle manner, here as an integral aspect of the film. The shifts in their performances as the scenes change along with the level of passion and depth of emotion is worthy of accolades in itself. Daoming Chen’s charisma is unmistakable as the Emperor Qin and has a regal bearing sure to draw the ire of any anti-monarchists. In fact it is a shame we don’t see him in more humble roles as he does seem typecast more and more nowadays. Finally Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi in support are notable in that they kick ass. It’s also worthwhile to see Zhang Ziyi moralistically lauding it over Maggie Cheung at one stage.
Hero is such a beautiful and well-made film that not to see it is large disservice to yourself. While it is understood that the implied politics can be construed as offensive to some, at the very least it forces one to examine those beliefs and why it offends instead of purely reacting in a dogmatic fashion. Without such reflections (fractured or not) there can be no true introspection and subsequent evolution of the human experience.