Starring: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi
Director: Yimou Zhang
Released in China in 2002, the visually captivating “Hero” was gathering dust in the Miramax vaults (MiramAxe for those savvy to film-geek slang) for two years thanks to the Weinstein brothers, who are notorious for purchasing the rights to sensational international films and then cutting them to pieces in the editing room. Self-proclaimed Asian film buff Quentin Tarantino finally stepped in and took control of the project, presenting the movie to American audiences in a much wider release than originally planned. Fronted by one of the most famous and critically acclaimed directors in film history (Zhang Yimou) and led by a cast of Asian all-stars, “Hero” is filled with vibrant colors, well-choreographed fight sequences and a stylish script, all rolled into one unbelievable experience.
Jet Li stars as a nameless warrior who arrives at the palace of the King of Qin (Daoming Chen) with a bold tale of how he killed three assassins (Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, respectively) who had long sought to kill the prosperous king. As a reward, the nameless warrior is given land, gold and the chance to sit within 10 paces of the king’s presence, an honor no one has ever been given. But the king finds the warrior’s close proximity a bit unsettling when he begins to doubt the warrior’s story.
Audiences will undoubtedly drone over the obvious comparisons to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” with its similar gravity-bending rules and ballet-like fight scenes, but what most Americans don’t realize is that this particular genre (Wuxia, which typically incorporates fantastic abilities like flying) has been at the core of Chinese cinema for decades. While nearly every scene features a fighting sequence, the action effortlessly flows through the film like delicate leaves, and director Yimou produces a beautiful backdrop for his violence with the use of bold greens, reds, yellows and blues to distinguish the different sections of the story. Each battle is impressive, but among the best is an autumn-themed scuffle in the woods between Maggie Cheung’s graceful Flying Snow and Zhang Ziyi’s raw and abrasive Moon.
Zhang Yimou, perhaps best known for his dramatic woman-on-her-own tales, has never directed an action film before, but there’s never been anyone better for the gig. Forget what you think you know about Asian cinema just because you saw a dubbed version of “Crouching Tiger” and experienced the bloody kung fu-homage of “Kill Bill.” Utilizing brilliant cinematography and ground-breaking action choreography, “Hero” is one of the best films of the year. Even if it is two years old.