(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
This film was released in China in 2002 and in the rest of the world in 2003. But here we are in September 2004 and Hero is finally being released in the United States. I don't know why. Ask Miramax. Hero is the latest Chinese film in the great tradition of The Water Margin to reach North America. But the film that most people will think of when they see Hero is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It also tells the story of ancient "heroes" with superhuman powers who tragically sacrifice themselves to vanquish evil. In Hero, a "nameless" hero (Jet Li) plots to kill the King (Daoming Chen) who is trying to unify China by conquering it. Li enlists the help of some better known heroes, a.k.a. assassins. (Hero also reminds me of Kill Bill.) These assassins, with the lyrical names of Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), Moon (Ziyi Zhang) and Sky (Donnie Yen) cannot be defeated in battle but they have some major issues and rather than go into therapy, they mostly end up killing themselves.
Unlike Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was an action film with interesting characters, Hero is more of an art film. It is quite reminiscent of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, her Lover but not quite as gross. In both films, color is used to match the emotions of each scene. In Hero, they are red (passion), blue (love), green (youth), white (truth), and black (death). (OK, I looked this up.) Anyway, the cinematography is breathtaking, and what Li and his fellow assassins are up to just distracts the viewer from the scenery. The cast is good but the their roles require them to be a bit wooden. This movie is in Chinese with subtitles. Two of the actors are quite familiar. Jet Li rivals Jackie Chan in popularity in Hong Kong cinema but his movies, such as Romeo Must Die, are well know here too. Ziyi Zhang played the young hero in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and plays a similar but more subservient role here. She also starred in The Road Home and Rush Hour 2.
Hero is directed by the well-known Chinese director, Yimou Zhang. He also directed Raise the Red Lantern, The Road Home and the upcoming House of Flying Daggers (nice name). The last two movies, as well as Hero, star Ziyi Zhang, the director's new muse. It used to be Li Gong, the star of Raise the Red Lantern. Most people I know who have seen Hero have been blown away by it. It is a very pretty movie, and so is Ziyi Zhang, but I found it a bit draggy in places, a little too much like The Water Margin and not enough like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But then no one rocks like Michelle Yeoh. I am hard to please, so don't listen to me. Just go see the movie.