Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"Every cinematic trick in the book to make Hero's violence as sexy as a car commercial"

There is much talk these days of the pornography of war. Zhang Yimou, responsible for the magnificent Red Sorghum (1987) and the elegant Raise The Red Lantern (1991), uses every cinematic trick in the book to make Hero's violence as sexy as a car commercial. For the most expensive ($30million and counting) Chinese film ever, the emphasis is entirely on visuals. Somehow the screenwriters have been retrained as choreographers.

The story is incredible, convoluted, impossible to follow. Dead people suddenly reappear alive, because the scene of their demise (almost certainly by the sword) didn't actually occur. In the style of Rashomon, the plot evolves through many stages of spun memory, most of which has no relevance to the truth.

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In the dark years before unification, China was a collection of warring states. A brave fighter was worth his weight in gold. These warriors had their own code, in which honour, loyalty and fitness counted for more than palaces and concumbines. Facing corrupt, meglomanic rulers, maverick athletes, with honed skills in martial arts, represented the conscience of the not-yet-nation.

In Hero, they have names - Broken Sword, Snow, Moon and Nameless. Their purpose is to kill the king of Qiu, whose wall of security would make the FBI envious. The sight of Broken Sword and Snow (a woman, incidently) fighting their way through a batallion of royal guards is one of the most majestic and ludicrous sequences in a film that dispenses realism for romanticism.

Although influenced by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, what Yimou does is take elements from Ang Lee's film, such as the "flying fights", and exaggerate them. The result is operatic overindulgence combined with balletic beauty. If girls in the desert had burst into song, which doesn't happen, you might be talking of a new hybrid, the Bollywood/Beijing mix.

The best kung-fu movies are like musicals without music and this is no exception. The luscious wardrobes, sensational locations and grandoise set pieces belong to an elaborate fantasy, in which the art of swordsmanship balances with a dance of death.

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2004
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Visually ravishing fable of maverick warriors in ancient China.
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Josh Morrall ****

Director: Zhang Yimou

Writer: Li Feng, Zhang Yimou, Wang Bin

Starring: Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Chen Daoming, Donnie Yen, Man-Yuk, Liu Zhong Yuan, Zheng Tian Yong, Quin Yan

Year: 2002

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: China/Hong Kong

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