Hero Rescues Us From This Summer’s Mediocre Movies

With exception of a select few, this summer was not the “thrill ride” promised by many films ranging from Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid to Alien Versus Predator. Instead, the summer spotlight was stolen by less invested films such as the surprising neo-teenage movie: Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Michael Moore’s controversial Farenheit 911 and the acclaimed indie flick Garden State. Stealing some of the spotlight is Hero, released by Miramax Films and directed by Zhang Yimou.Hero packs an all-star punch with Jet Li, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi, all highly respected names throughout Asian cinema. Released in Asia in 2002, it took two years for the sub-titled Hero to reach the shores of the U.S. It was a worthwhile wait. Hero takes place in a pre-unified China in the third century B.C., during the rule of Ching Shi Huang, played by Chen Daoming. For this unfortunate emperor, there have been three assassins by the names of Broken Sword, Flying Snow and Sky who have been trying to dethrone him. Amidst this commotion and paranoia, a nameless guest arrives to deliver news that he has killed all three of the above named assassins. Brought before the emperor, this anonymous warrior, clad in black from head to toe, begins to recount how he killed them. With each story, he presents the weapon of the victim to the emperor. With each show of weaponry, this nameless “hero” is allowed several steps closer to the emperor. The true suspense of the film lies behind this “hero’s” true motives: could he be an assassin himself, his ultimate goal to accomplish what the other three could not?Hero’s success surprisingly does not emanate from its fighting scenes. It carries much of the gravity-defying stunts in movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and even The Matrix. Although the fighting choreographed by Sui-Tung-Ching is spectacular, it is nothing we haven’t seen before. In some scenes, it may even be excessive, making it seem almost too unrealistic. Needless to say, however, be sure to check out the arrow scenes – simply awesome! Still, the original storytelling, its cinematography, set design, brilliant acting and great directing is what really launches Hero to great heights.There is nothing unnecessary about the movie. There is no excess baggage or “filler” material. Colors were chosen carefully, backdrops are often simple, but in Hero’s case, less is more. Everything you see in the movie has a purpose. There is not much music throughout the film, but the few musical accompaniments that are present glamorously decorate their scenes; once again, nothing is superfluous, everything enhancing the plight of action or emotion.Throughout the movie, it is obvious that cinematographer Christopher Doyle contributed fervently, given the movie’s setting and theme. Fights move fluidly from the picturesque mountains of inner China to the red and yellow camouflage of October trees. Every location is breathtaking, with grand long shots, and controlled close-ups of battles.Likewise, Jet Li and the supporting cast are exceptional throughout. The characters build off and support one another in every scene. The viewer would be hard-pressed to find an attention diversion. This film not only goes above and beyond what an action movie is supposed to do, but it also accomplishes more than what an action movie requires in content.Hero has already been nominated for best foreign language film for the 2005 Oscars and has profited more than $9 million since September 3, holding the number one spot coming off Labor Day weekend.In the end, Zhang Yimou’s Hero delineates a personal view of a fine line between tyranny and proper governance. Yimou’s great vernacular for feel, action and content is wrapped together in a neat and tight package. Like its counterpart Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero is not an empty kung-fu flick, but a masterpiece with thought-provoking issues and themes. The butt-kicking is only supplemental.