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HERO (Ying Xiong), 2002
Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen, Liu Zhong Yuan
In ancient China, before the reign of the first emperor, warring factions throughout the Six Kingdoms plot to assassinate the most powerful ruler, Qin. When a minor official defeats Qin's three principal enemies, he is summoned to the palace to tell Qin the story of his surprising victory.
It was off the back of the success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) that the U.S. and, I guess; the world went crazy for the truly lush visual style invoked in these historical martial art epics. The magical realism as honourable, good characters seem to defy space and time seemed to spark something amongst world-wide audiences enraptured by these movies.
Characters leap through the air in fight scenes choreographed so they appear more akin to dance routines. Hero experimented further with colour, which is an obvious trait used through the film, but one that leaves a long lasting impression in the minds-eye. Director Yimou Zhang, with his American backers Miramax, then followed up with House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) which offered more of the same but I’ll state that neither of those comes close to the successful act of balancing style and substance as Hero does.
Hero tells the tale of a nameless assassin (played by Jet Li) who grants an audience with the King of Qin in feudal China. This wish isn’t ever met as the King is under threat of assassination himself from many adversaries. However, Nameless (as he is known) claims to have defeated the greatest warriors who threaten the Kings life. These great warriors are Broken Sword, Flying Snow and Sky. Intrigued by this unknown assassins claim the King allows Nameless to tell his tale.
And tell it he does, in a series of flashbacks one by one he imparts as to how he got close to each warrior and fought them with their speciality, whether sword, arrow or otherwise. The king is mightily impressed with Nameless’ claims and after each slaying the king permits nameless to sit ever closer to him. Only when Nameless has declared that he killed the last of the warriors and the King allows him to within striking distance does Nameless’ true plan become apparent.
I’ll leave the outcome as a surprise for you but will talk about how Hero is a truly sublime piece of visual art. Each tale that Nameless tells is colour coded, and while a palpable trick, does make for rich artistry that is distinct and coupled with the breathtaking wire work, choreography and landscapes is as stylish as anything else you’ll see.
Review by Stefan Leverton 08/05/10
HERO (Ying Xiong)