Hero (Ying xiong), part of the Ultimate Force of Four Blu-ray box set released last week, marked director Yimou Zhang’s transition from dramatic art house auteur, to action cinema wunderkind who redefined the very nature of the martial arts movie genre as fans knew it.
When I first watched Hero, I happened to be in Atlanta visiting my brother, who I used to devour martial arts films with weekly as a child. We’d attend double-features and then give critical reviews on the walk home, as we practiced the incredible moves we’d just witnessed, to a beat all our own. So when he asked if I’d like to check out Hero, I jumped at the chance to relive a bit of our original glory days of grindhouse movie-going. Little did I know that Hero was no mere action film, nor did I realize the complexity of this lyrical tale.
Zhang’s artistry wove a meditative example of what action cinema can be, when lovingly developed, then cast with extraordinary actors, who just happen to be well-trained athletes and martial artists. Hero is meant to teach us lessons about sacrifice, honor, respect… and yes, martial arts. It’s arguably artistic elegance and poignant storytelling at it highest level – a visual feast for the eyes and ears; a rumination on purpose and duty, and the more traditional martial arts cinematic themes of deception and revenge. It is a wonderful film, filled with brilliant performances from end to end, including cinematography, acting and directing.
If there’s one issue I have with the internationally acclaimed cinematic masterpiece that is Hero, it’s that there should have been even more of it. Not just the action, although I breathlessly wanted more of that, but every aspect of the storytelling, the characters’ individual tales, the lush landscapes, and nameless’ (Jet Li) diabolically patriotic scheme. What starts as Li’s simple tale of defeating three deadly assassins after earning an audience with a reclusive Chinese emperor (Daoming Chen), quickly builds into an exploration of the warrior’s identity and true motivations. As the nameless warrior exalts over the fierce physical and psychological war he endured with a rebel named Sky (Donnie Yen); along with the subterfuge he employed to kill the master swordsman Broken Sword (Tony Leung); and finally his mental seduction of Sword’s lover, Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), the emperor, having dealt with these brave and smart malcontents personally, soon starts to suspect that the nameless warrior hasn’t been completely honest.
As the king reveals details of his own dealings with the legendary assassins, both men must face their true motivations.
- Hero Defined is a 24 minute behind-the-scenes documentary that doesn’t go nearly deep enough into what went into creating this monumental piece of filmmaking artistry, but is worth watching, just to get a sense of the production and its participants.
- Close-Up Of A Fight Scene gives an overview of some of the more intense action sequences of the film, but again, I wish it had been more thorough – and in HD.
- Inside the Action is a conversation between Hero’s star Jet Li and cult cinema icon Quentin Tarantino.
- Storyboards was one of the more interesting segments for me, having done storyboards and illustration. The featurette compared finished shots to their laid out equivalent.
- Soundtrack Spot is a commercial touting the film’s soundtrack.
Director: Yimou Zhang
Writer: Feng Li, Bin Wang
Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen, Liu Zhong Yuan, Zheng Tia Yong, Yan Qin, Chang Xiao Yang, Yakun Zhang, Ma Wen Hua, Jin Ming