Hero (Hong Kong/China; 96 min.)

directed by: Zhang Yimou
starring: Jet Li; Tony Leung; Maggie Cheung; Zhang Zhiyi
Ying xiong
Bruce says: "HERO is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. For me the hero of the film is cinematographer Christopher Doyle (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, THE QUIET AMERICAN, RABBIT PROOF FENCE, and EROS). Every scene is lush, textured and colorful. Credit must also be given to the set (the Forbidden City should get a credit all to itself) and costume designers. The reds, pinks, blues, yellows, celadons, and even the whites are breathtaking. In one fight scene, thousands of yards of celadon fabric cascade to the ground. Although I’ve been told that the various colors are culturally significant, I have found nothing to verify that fact. The battle scenes are magnificent. Thousands of arrows soar through the air and fall like pick-up sticks. Legions of soldiers march and chant in unison. Like numbers charge on horseback.

"The weakness of the film is the story line which seems contrived. The Rashomon aspects of the storytelling detract from the film; I suspect the device was used as camouflage. Still the story line is an improvement over CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON a film which is an obvious comparison, if for nothing else, for the martial arts where each fight to the death is performed as an aerial ballet. The part of the HERO story I really did like was the cat and mouse game between Nameless (Jet Li) and the king (Daoming Chen) - how Nameless could move closer to King Qin each time he told a story about killing one of three famous assassins (Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Donnie Yen) who wanted the king dead. The notion of moving ten or twenty paces is chess like. The thought that each man was carefully watching the other, ready to make a move at any time, was actually suspenseful.

"The other appealing aspect of the film is the connection between calligraphy and handling a sword. 'In order to know the swordsman, I had to study the calligrapher,”' Nameless tells the king. As a child Nameless was told the brush and the sword are fundamentally connected. Needless to say, no mention is made that the pen is mightier than the sword.

"The acting is excellent. Some of the actors spend more time in the air than they do on the ground. Maggie Cheung is a ravishing beauty and Tony Leung is one of the most sensual actors around. In one of the flashback stories, Nameless has decided that the way to overcome Broken Sword (Leung) and Flying Snow (Cheung) is to divide and conquer. Like Iago with Othello, Nameless creates jealousy and distrust When Flying Snow catches Broken Sword making love to Moon (Ziyi Zhang) she takes revenge. This episode was one of the few where Cheung and Leung could put their acting skills to good use. Jet Li was surprisingly good as was Daoming Chen; they were blessed with more to do in the acting department.

"There are few films where I experience true awe at sights which appear on screen. This film is one of them. 5 cats

Chris says: "Zhang Yimou’s long-delayed (in the US, anyway) martial arts epic is stunning, at least technically. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle outdoes himself, the awesome color-coding even more sensual than IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE’s rain-drenched streets and intricate, congested apartments. The sound design also impressed—never has an arrow punctuating a surface so viscerally affected me. And although I appreciated the all-star cast and could even follow along with the story, it alone didn’t really move me. Certainly nowhere near other Yimou films like TO LIVE and NOT ONE LESS. If there’s only one film you want to see in theatres this year, make it this one (I can’t imagine it having anywhere near the same impact on a smaller screen), but I hope that Yimou’s new film, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (another martial arts epic due this Christmas) will possess a soul to match its outer beauty. 3 cats"

Diane says: "Now, this is a Chinese movie. (See how much better I'm getting?)

"It _is_ beautiful to see. I also cried a couple of times, so must have been more moved than Chris. On the other hand, during one critical scene, I found myself thinking, 'How many kinds of fabric did they try in order to get the perfect billowing effect?' I might think some more about how it values the actions of individuals over mass action (at this time of frequent mass protest). Great to see Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in love
again. 4 cats."


Esmé says: "I agree with you Chris. It is visually stunning, but there were far too many moments where the audience laughed when it wasn't intended to be funny. Too many long flights through the air for no apparent reason. I enjoyed the plot, what there was of it, that was reminiscent of that Japanese movie that is all about how the story is different depending on who tells it (I can't think of the name!)"

And in response to Diane: "I had the same thoughts about the billowing fabric, I confess. Although I loved every minute of its billowy-ness. And I too, cried. But just once. I can't give it 4 cats, no way, no sir, not me! 3 cats only!"

Marilyn says: "You have said it all Michael.....it is a three repeat for me too....the most visually beautiful movie ever, don't you think?"

Michael says: "Finally, after two years, Zhang Yimou's HERO makes it to the United States. If you see one film this year, you must see HERO. If you liked CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, you'll love HERO. Many Americans will see HERO (which is getting a wide release this week) because of action star Jet Li, who has starred in Hollywood films, LETHAL WEAPON 4 and THE ONE. For me, besides the fact that HERO is a Zhang Yimou film (he's responsible for such classic cinema as RAISE THE RED LANTERN and JU DOU), it also stars that oh-so romantic team of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE) and Zhang Zhiyi (CROUCHING TIGER).

"All that is almost irrelevant when you take into account the jaw-dropping, phenomenal visuals courtesy of Christopher Doyle, the powerful, romantic, and epically heroic story, and the astounding martial arts wizardry of the players. Add to that a RASHOMON-esque multiple retelling of the same story, and HERO has just got to be seen to be believed.

I've seen HERO twice already, but you can bet I'll be heading back to the Coolidge for another big screen viewing. It's mind-boggling to think that Miramax couldn't bring themselves to release this outstanding piece of cinema. Do yourselves a favor and don't miss HERO. 5 cats"

And in response to Esmé & Chris: "I disagree with Esmé and Chris. Well, we can all agree on the outstanding visuals of HERO, but I found the story to be intricately plotted, emotionally powerful, and thoroughly absorbing. Chris mentions that HERO
lacks the emotional resonance of some of director Zhang Yimou's earlier films, and while that may be true, it's difficult to compare the films in such differing genres. HERO is a romantic, martial arts epic that explores heroism, love, honor, betrayal and much more.

"The film-title Esme is looking for is RASHOMON (one of my all-time faves) and the element of different perspectives on the same story is definately prevalant in HERO as well. I must mention, I have yet to see the American (Miramax) cut of HERO (I'll be catching it tonight) so it's possible that it's slightly, or even significantly different from the Chinese version that I have seen twice. Perhaps the cuts made by Miramax have lessened the emotional impact of the film in order to punch up the martial arts bits and
appeal to a young American audience. I hope this isn't true.

"The film examines what it means to be a hero. Is it self-sacrifice? Is it nobility? Is it bravery and technical skill? The viewer spends much of the film believing certain things about the characters, only to find out that we may not have seen the true story. And what is truth? It depends on the point-of-view of the storyteller, apparently. (Shades of Lucas Belvaux's Trilogy!)

"And I'm sorry... I just get shivers thinking about the face off between Maggie Cheung and Zhang Zhiyi in the glad with falling leaves cascading around them. Oh, and that's just one of so many scenes that totally thrill me. I can't believe there was inappropriate laughter during some of the battle scenes. I was just consistently in awe."

Carolyn says: "This is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen. The scene with the raindrops and all the scenes in monochrome were amazing. I was so visually stunned that I forgot to pay attention to the significance of the different colors. Red, green, blue, white… The story didn’t really reach me, but for cinematography I’ll give it... 4 cats"