Reviewed by: Josh Morrall

"Hero is beautiful and awe-inspiring. What it lacks in plot substance, it makes up for with structure and script."

After two years of hearing about the myth of the most expensive Chinese film ever made, Hero has finally floated on to British cinema screens. As it flies, it trails a coloured cloth that carries its numerous morals and messages, which descend upon you like a soft layer of fabric. This is a film that can lift your spirits and have you laughing out of sheer joy, as you gaze in wonder at the perfection of the mise-en-scene and cinematography. That is, if you let the film take you on a journey, without pondering its questionable plot points.

Hero is the two sides of a tale as presented by Nameless (Jet Li), a mere Prefect, who defeated three deadly assassins, and the King of Qin (Daoming Chen), the man the assassins wished to kill. Nameless weaves his heroic, though modest, story of how he killed the assassins, but the king remains unconvinced, spinning his own version of how he believed events unfolded.

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The director takes us through Nameless's story first, spreading the battle sequences thick, allowing them to take their own time. In the king's version, certain battles are then revised, which is remarkably brave considering that some are utter fabrications. In one such fictitious fight, in a faultlessly designed set, Nameless and Sky (Donnie Yen) close their eyes and fight out the battle within their minds, meaning that screen time is being spent lavishly on showing how two characters contemplated a fight, whilst fighting each other in a battle that never occurred. It is confusing certainly, but perhaps the director wished for his audience to get lost in the plot's design so that they would not question the warrantability of half of the battle sequences, which make up most of the film.

Yet, it is difficult to ponder these details when viewing such a spectacle. The sheer beauty of the battles, the gentle floating of the assassins as they fly around their arenas (which range from a forest of orange trees, crisp leaves falling to the ground throughout, like rain, to the crystal clear and calm of a mountain lake), the costumes of characters at varying stages in the storyline (red for passion, green for youth, white for truth, blue for love), the amazing army scenes which feature thousands of arrows being fired into the sky to create a black cloud that descends right on top of the camera, all these elements combine to produce a faultlessly perfect image, each frame a worthy photograph that reminds you why cinema is the greatest art form of the 20th century.

And characterisation is not lost in this wonder. Despite an irritating two dimensional display by Zhang Ziyi as Moon, the actors carry off fine performances, especially Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Broken Sword and Daoming Chen as the king, who are especially credible as they are often drowning in memories of the king and Nameless and need to change slight mannerisms in order to reflect whose mind they inhabit.

The script is of an impressively high standard. The moments of clarity that the warriors feel are experienced by the audience, too, and there are informed outlooks on the emptiness of aggression and that to achieve peace sometimes war is the only option. These messages seem fitting in our current times, underlining how ancient our society truly is.

Hero is beautiful and awe-inspiring. What it lacks in plot substance, it makes up for with structure and script. Elaborating on the ground work laid out by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this is an experience I would encourage you to seek, as long as you are willing to submit to the film and let it guide you through its world.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2004
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Visually ravishing fable of maverick warriors in ancient China.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***

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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