BluRay/DVD Reviews

HERO

By • Nov 30th, 2004 •

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(Miramax) 2002/3. PG-13 (You’ll miss seeing blood in some scenes)
99 mins approx / 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio

It was odd seeing this DVD after watching Christo’s shower curtains flapping in the Central Park breeze for two weeks. The Ukranian Institute, which is located directly across the park from me, on 79th off 5th Avenue, had orange sashes adorning their grid iron gate, the autumnal orange of which was more pleasing than Christo’s Macy’s-marked-down shade. And there is much made of fabric in Zhang Yimou’s film, encompassing a prism of colors.

Christo’s inundation was a light, unaesthetic treat for city denizens, whereas HERO was aesthetically gorgeous from the first shot to the last. It was also revealing of Yimou’s acquaintance with film history. The opening scene, with its zillion soldiers lined up in two blocked groupings as a single man moves away from the camera between them, and the final scene, as the Emperor’s minions exhort him to execute the assassin, were both lifted verbatim from Leni Riefenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (Synapse), the former in terms of composition, the latter in terms of sound montage. Theft? Nah, Not from the likes of Zhang Yimou. More like a ‘respectful nod.’

You’ll find some hefty nodding in HERO’s frames. Jet Li’s character is called Nameless, and in the music and many of the camera moves there’s a strong sense of Sergio Leone. And we visit picturesque moonscapes which might as well have been out of Ford’s Monument Valley, except that they are the terrains of China.

The film reeks of passion. Tony Leung, the exquisite Maggie Cheung, and others, give Jet Li such powerful support that ultimately they are more memorable than he is. But Yimou directs them all with great style. Nature’s elements figure heavily into the action as well: leaves, rain, sand, and a resilient lake. And manmade objects blend in seamlessly: arrows, and endless shimmers of cloth. In the aforereferenced leaves-sequence, when the screen turns to red during the finale, I acknowledged a final, posthumous argument against laserdisc, where the same frames would have looked as if a bottle of ketchup had been squirted on the monitor screen.

Quentin Tarantino presents this film in America, and he also sits and animatedly discusses martial arts films with Jet Li in one of the disc’s supplements. I’ve never seen Tarantino looking so beefy, and I was unaware that Li spoke English as well as he does. That’s a pleasantry to check out.

For Zhang Yimou, despite the protracted post production schedule, this genre was a rewarding excursion. The Chinese government apparently regards period pieces as unworthy of scrutiny and censorship, so the director was left much more to his own devices. He must have enjoyed the creative aspects as well as the revenue, since he’s done another martial arts fantasy, HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS (ColTri), which will soon follow HERO onto the DVD shelves. Both are worth owning. They are expressions of pure cinema – sound, music, art direction, CGI effects, cinematography, choreography, performance, direction… What else could you possibly want?

And were there any problems with HERO? Sure, but ones you can live with: slight willing-suspension-of-disbelief challenges, even given the film’s inner logic; Jet Li’s often actionless acting which threatens to let the viewer’s mind wander; intolerance for the ROSHOMAN-like script. Things like that. Nothing big. Nothing to displace the jaw-dropping moments which hit with stupifying regularity.


Features: A conversation with Quentin Tarantino & Jet Li, Storyboards, ‘HERO Defined.’

Cast:
Jet Li
Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Maggie Cheung
Ziyi Zhang
Daoming Chen
Donnie Yen.

Crew:
Screenplay by Feng Li, Bin Wang, Zhang Yimou. Original Music by Dun Tan, with violin solos and fiddling by Itzhak Perlman. Cinematography by Christopher Doyle.
Editing by Angie Lam, Vincent Lee and Ru Zhai. Production Design by Tingxiao Huo and Zhenzhou Yi.
Art direction by Tingxiao Huo.
Martial Arts choreographed by Wei Tung.

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