Review: Hero (2004)





Yimou Zhang


Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang


99 min.


Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen

MPAA Rating

PG-13 (For stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality)

Buy/Rent Movie




What does it take to make a Hero ? Miramax pictures brings legendary Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s haunting tale to American audiences.

After a summer filled with dumb blockbusters, a bona fide art film can perk up even the most recalcitrant filmgoer. Hero is the story of one man’s struggle to bring peace to the world through a coordinated attack on the King of Qin (Daoming Chen). Nameless (Jet Li) is what we always hear this man called. The entire purpose of anonymity allows the film to take on an epic proportion and allow anyone to put his name in the place of this eventual Hero.

The story is told during a war between eight provinces in China, each hoping to become the core of a great empire. The King of Qin uses his massive armies to help lay siege to these territories, hoping to unite them under his banner. Nameless brings word to the King that he has vanquished the three assassins the king most fears. Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen) have all met their demise at the hands of this meek young man.

Zhang uses color to great effect as we see multiple versions of the same story unfold across the screen. Each scene features a set and costumes bathed in the color representative of the tale being told. The first segment is dressed in brilliant red. The symbolism follows Asian death ceremonies and American representations of anger, passion and violence. All of these can be applied as we see a small calligraphy school where Broken Sword has mastered the art of the pen and the blade. The school is being besieged by the king’s army while Nameless is there to bring an end to Broken Sword and Flying Snow.

The next sequence is one dressed in muted blues. Representing the Asian concept of immorality and the American symbolism of tranquility and depression, we find Nameless and Broken Sword fighting over the dead body of Flying Snow as they glide across a large lake, brushing its surface with their hands and weapons.

There are scenes featuring heavy uses of green and yellow, however, the last major color shown is white. In America, it represents purity and shares the Asian ideal of death. These scenes also seem to represent the greater truth of the story and while death is often a part of it, it’s the purity of the tale coming through that gives the color its resonance.

Christopher Doyle’s crisp photography makes the movie what it is. His camera catches the beauty and devastation each scene reveals with a sharpness that rivals the greatest works in cinema history. However, Doyle’s work is hardly the only thing to celebrate about Hero. Zhang’s soft hand and sharp pen (alongside scribes Feng Li and Bin Wang) generate a film that is bold and deeply meaningful. Its theme of the traitor becoming a hero has seldom been done with such finesse.

The performances are typical and seldom revelatory. Only Cheung and Zhang Ziyi (as Broken Sword’s pupil Moon) deliver knockout performances. Being the only feminine characters in the film, they have a great deal to achieve and no difficulty in doing so.

Hero will not disappoint a true cineaste. There are moments that many would feel are laughable but the whole of the picture is so honest and poignant that even the most skeptical may find something to enjoy.

Review Written

September 5, 2004

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