Hero review by The Grim Ringler

Made by director Zhang Yimou, Hero has already achieved a sort of legendary status with fans of both Asian films and of wonderful filmmaking. It was made with the aid of Miramax Films and will seemingly see the light of day sometime this year but who can say when exactly, and in what form? Having seen this film now though, with the aid of a friend, I can say that it definitely lives up to all the hype surrounding it and perhaps even exceeds it.

Hero is the tale of Nameless (Jet Li), a swordsman of great bravery and renown and his quest to see the king of the Qin Empire. Nameless has been called before the king because it was he that put to death the three most deadly assassins to assail the king, and it is he that has made it safe for the king to sleep in peace once again. Both loved and hated by his own people and those who oppose him, the king is a great man but is also a man made skeptical of what he hears and wishes now to hear from Nameless how it was that he bested three assassins of such fame and honor as Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow. And so Nameless begins to tell the king his tale of how it was he came to best these three assassins, each tale told with a separate color theme and with a different feel, each tale becoming almost a tone poem as he tells it. But when he has told of how he came to defeat these three, each time coming ever closer to the king, first within twenty paces, then within ten, the king realizes that the stories he has heard are lies and that it is Nameless who now poses the greatest threat to him, even has he knees but feet away. And then it is the king that tells Nameless what he believes happened to Sky, Broken Sword, and finally to Flying Snow, and why it is that Nameless has come to be close enough to kill. What the king doesn’t know though is that he has still not come to the real truth of whom Nameless is and why he has come to kill him, and it is in this last story that the truth will finally be revealed as well as the king’s fate.

Hero really is a sight to behold. I am far from a fan of this sub-genre – the flying sword films – but the film is made with such skill and is such an utter joy to see, it’s hard not to like it. Yimou has managed to use special effects in his film not to prop up a weak story, but to create a color palate in the film that fills each story and each scene with an emotion and richness that would have been impossible to achieve otherwise. The acting is excellent and the stoic acting actually works to show how reserved and cautious these characters are taught to be, their only emotions coming during their fighting. And the sword fights are amazing, their fierceness and beauty making them a sort of mid-air ballet. One scene that struck me more than the others was a fight between Nameless and Broken Sword as they fight upon a lake over the honor of the dead Flying Snow. Broken Sword sees that a drop of water has reached Flying Snow’s cheek and leaves the combat to wipe it away, opening himself up to a fatal blow by Nameless, but when Nameless has the opportunity he cannot, unable to kill his opponent when his back is turned and he is attending his love. It is such a beautiful scene and when all is the truths are revealed at the end, the scene becomes more poignant in what it stands for. The best thing I can say about the film though is that it isn’t just a period-piece swordplay film. It’s a film about revenge, honor, sacrifice, and above all what it means to walk the path of the swordsman and to know what it means to be able to put your sword down when its use has passed.

There really isn’t more I could say on the film because it is simple to write about but holds in it a complexity and beauty that is very hard to convey. There is a scene where the Qin army has come to destroy a calligraphy school because Broken Sword and Flying Snow are teaching there, and during the first attack thousands of arrows are sent to pummel the school and to kill all those within. The students, realizing their lives are in danger move to escape but are sent back to their calligraphy tables to continue their exercises, their teacher leading the way, knowing that it is better they die now, and with honor, than later and cowering before their captors. What touched me and surprised me the most was that beneath this story of revenge lay a wonderful and tragic love story that is beautiful because it is tragic.

I hate movies like this because I am not quite sure how to review them. I don’t know this genre and can’t really comment very well on the ins and outs of what makes this movie so much better than other movies of its ilk. But maybe I can say this – that the swordplay and fighting is secondary to this wonderful story is exactly why this film works so well and has so much depth. Combining Taoist philosophy with the art and philosophy of the swordsman, Yimou has crafted a brilliant and beautiful film that rises high above its genre trappings. I pray that Mirimax does right by this film and that an audience finds it because it deserves to be seen.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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