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英雄 (2002)

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 03/14/2013
Summary: Solid effort all around

A little late to the game on this fine film, I'll throw out my 2 cents. Jet Li's Hero [2002] made its American debut in 2004. I waited on this movie to catch it on the big screen and I'm glad I did. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung bring fine performances to enhance the action stars performance while director Zhang Yi-Mou uses action directors Tony Ching and Tung Wai to create an epic action film. This movie is well worth a DVD rental if you haven't seen it.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 2

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 06/25/2010
Summary: all under heaven...

namless (jet li), a lowly provincial official, is escorted to an audience with the king of qin (chen dao-ming). he has earned this right, by slaying three assassins, feared greatly by the king; broken sword (tony leung), flying snow (maggie cheung) and sky (donnie yen). namless reveals, to the king, how he managed to dispatch three such notable rivals, but the king suspects that all is not as it seems...

as many people have already declared; having zhang yimou direct a wu xia epic, with cinematography from christopher doyle and choreographed by ching siu-tung, starring jet li, maggie cheung, tony leung, donnie yean and zhang ziyi, is a most mouth watering prospect. it's been a good few years since i first watched this, in fact zhang has churned out a couple of other wu xia flicks on the back of this to make himself a little trilogy, in the meantime. in all three of these films there is plenty to like, but none of them are without short comings: although i think 'hero' is almost universally accepted as the strongest of the three films.

first things first. 'hero' is a visual treat. doyle's cinematography, the vast array of stunning locations, the use of colour to define the mood / theme of each section of the film and the costume / production design are all second to none. ching siu-tung's fluid, wire-heavy, dance-like choreography is perfect for the film, although it, along with a healthy dose of cgi in places, may annoy and irk some viewers. apart from a couple of less convincing bits of cgi, which are forgiveable, i was okay with everything; oh, apart from maybe one bit of the jet / donnie fight, when donnie holds his spear under his raised leg, which just came across as being a bit daft.

the cast are all pretty strong; although chen dao-ming and zhang ziyi are worthy of special mentions, and having tony leung and maggie cheung on screen together again is rather glorious.

as for the narrative, the 'rashomon'-esque structure works incredibly well, although there is room to critique the over all narrative arc. the attempt to kill the king of qin is also dealt with in chen kaige's earlier film, 'the emperor and the assassin', which is more of a historical drama, than 'hero'. still, despite the fantasy elements, which manifest themselves only during action sequences, the film is still has, at its heart, the king of qin. qin was a man who did great things to unite and advance china as a nation, but he did so with an uncompromising, iron fist, burning books, crushing any signs of dissidence and killing thousands as the kingdoms were united.

for zhang yimou, a film-maker who has often been seen as a critic of the present chinese administration; it seems very strange that he would make a film which appears to endorse a totalitarian system, discounting human rights in favour of re-unification and so fourth. one does tend to think 'hmmm', if considering such thoughts when the film reaches its conclusion...

any hoo, despite the perception of a very questionable closing message, it's a bit of a gem...

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 02/28/2008

Mainland China's most accessible director (Zhang Yimou) tries his hand at martial arts; blending Ching Siu-tung's metaphysical choreography and Christopher Doyle's metaphorical photography with a powerhouse trio of actors (Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) and the director's own well-established artisanship. The sum is close to perfection though nearly everyone involved is guilty of acting ostentatious in one form or another and the dubious historical record of events in "Hero" have justly been taken to task since the film's premiere. Still, audiences will find this rather lovely flying swordsman epic either a dexterous antidote to Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or its worthy successor.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 12/11/2005
Summary: A beautifully made epic

Warning—spoiler in first sentence.

“Wow—I didn’t expect THAT!” were my exact words while watching the scene in “Hero” in which Flying Snow kneels, leans the dead body of Broken Sword, her lover, against her own and lifting a sword high above her head drives it through the body of Broken Sword and into her own. I was so taken with this movie, so caught up in the story and characters that I was literally living in the moment—its moment, as each moment was created on the screen. I had no idea what would be coming next nor did I care to know. “Hero” is a wonderful movie. The story is simple and powerful; its universal themes are how unconditioned love of one person for another is both transcendent and destructive; that complete devotion to one’s country can blind a patriotic person to the needs of humanity generally, including his own needs; and that death and destruction are necessary prerequisites for the unification of a great nation.

It is hard to imagine a better cast in better roles. Jet Li is the stoic, silently intense and extraordinarily skilled killer. His brooding good looks and ability to hold himself almost unnaturally still is perfect for “Nameless”. Tony Leung Chiu Wai is a true movie star. He can carry movies, can immerse himself in an ensemble, can do comedy, romance, action, drama—you name it. As Broken Sword he once again shows his ability to take on all the parts of a character so that you don’t see Tony Leung—he is the character, whether rebuffing the advances of the lovestruck Moon in their gorgeously designed house or trading sword cuts with Flying Snow in the desert, each trying to keep the other from going into a battle that can only result in his or her death. Donnie Yen, given the relatively thankless role of Sky, acquits himself well. Yen, whose greatest fan I am not, shows the martial arts skill, the craftiness and guile and the nascent heroism so that he is a worthy opponent for Nameless.

Maggie Cheung disappeared within Flying Snow, becoming the character in a way that many strong, talented and internationally renowned actresses find difficult. Often one is more aware that one is watching the actress than the character she is playing. This is not confined to film, of course. Having seen Natalia Makarova as Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake”, Glenda Jackson as Lady Macbeth or Jane Eaglen as Isolde—all extraordinary artists at or close to the height of their powers—one is aware of how easy it is for the artist to dominate the role, no matter how well drawn the character is. While this is also something which has happened more than once in lesser movies, here is seemed that Maggie simply immersed herself in the features, disposition and words of Flying Snow.

Zhang Ziyi was impressive especially since Moon was not that well developed. She was the ingénue/student/neophyte, almost a stock character. Zhang did as much as she could with this underwritten role. Chang Diy Ming as Qui Emperor was terrific. It was obvious (but only in retrospect) that Nameless, no matter how cunning his approach, how enthralling his story or how deadly his kung fu, would be successful in killing the emperor. Leaders in martial arts movies, especially relatively young and fit leaders, are often their own best defenders and Chang was very much in this mold. He deployed the silk baffles that obscured the killing ground, he was quick and skilled with his sword and he made is clear that his life would be sold very dearly.

The narrative was exquisite. Different and shifting points of view showed us that none of the characters can be trusted. Someone may be lying or he may be telling as much of the truth that he knows but each of them presents only what he knows or wants other characters (and the audience) to know. The flashbacks and changing accounts of the same incidents worked because the story they were telling was clear and simple. The final outcome—the unification of China through conquest—seems to have fit the reality as seen and lived by the current rulers of the Mainland. However, this “reality” is undermined by the unstable structure of the movie that contains it, since the audience knows it cannot trust any perspective, even an omniscient one.

Christopher Doyle’s camera captured the bleak beauty of the desert. The shoot itself must have been difficult for all the actors and technical people but possibly more so for Doyle and his camera operators. They covered themselves with glory, producing shot after breathtaking shot.

While I have a few quibbles with “Hero”, they are only enough to reduce the score to a 9.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Arshadnm6
Date: 04/21/2005
Summary: Over-the-top attempt at becoming a crowd-pleaser, too bad we didn't have Wong Kar-Wai......

Nameless (played by Jet Li from ‘Hitman’, ‘Romeo Must Die’ and ‘The One’), a low-level official in the Qin Kingdom, is summoned to the palace of Ying Zheng (played by Chen Dao-Ming), by the King of Qin. On arriving, Nameless presents the King of Qin with the weapons of Broken Sword (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai from ‘Infernal Affairs I and III’ and ‘Hard Boiled’), Flying Snow (played by Maggie Cheung from ‘Moon Warriors’, ‘The Heroic Trio’ and ‘Executioners’) and Sky (played by Donnie Yen from ‘Dragon Inn’, ‘Iron Monkey’ and ‘Shanghai Knights’), three assassins sought by the Qin Kingdom for attempting to assassinate the King. As China is currently in turmoil due to the various factions of warring states, Ying Zheng desires to conquer the entire nation and establish himself as the supreme ruler of China. Nameless arrives at the palace to claim his rewards for disposing of the King’s enemies, and tells the story of how he was able to overcome the famed and renowned assassins. A series of flashbacks and different versions of the same story follow with the intentions of all of the characters changing as their motives becomes clearer. Broken Sword also has a young assistant (played by Zhang Ziyi from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, ‘Rush Hour II’ and ‘Musa: The Warrior’) and both of them get entangled in a love-triangle with Flying Snow.

This movie has a high-budget invested into it, which means a barrage of special-effects is included with several well-known actors. However, this is only a diversion to the movie’s many shortfalls. Firstly, the twists come thick and hard following the development of a fairly simplistic storyline and at points this becomes irritating since they appear to be questioning the viewers’ intelligence (via missed clues) most of the time rather than going somewhere in particular. Secondly, the storyline is wafer-thin, spiced up by some unnecessary martial-arts action (mainly involving swords) and therefore does not deserve such a vast acting talent or budget devoted to it since things could have been scaled down. Also, the romantic aspects of the movie are a constant distraction and never serve a purpose. Furthermore, the use of different shades of one colour during any particular scene is all too common and is revolting and unrealistic to say the least. The movie’s main point is to introduce the viewers to China’s vast and possibly lost traditional talents in music and calligraphy writing whilst agreeing with the communistic government on its stance of achieving the higher good for the nation over the individual.

Nevertheless, this movie is entertaining enough and never actually bores. The acting is quite well performed with Jet Li taking a stern and emotionless view to the goings on in the movie (leaving Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi to fill in other corners of emotions by introducing a love story into the mix). This movie however does lack comedy and is a very seriously-focussed drama. Jet Li may even be considered for the role of a younger Mu-Bai (played by Chow Yun-Fat) in the prequel to ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ after this performance. Moreover, repeating the same scenes with different viewpoints especially in an epic is not a good idea and will not hopefully be experimented with again. Thankfully, this time around, Zhang Ziyi was crowded out by the experienced actors available throughout the movie and could not interfere with her Oscar-nomination inspired over-acting.

Overall, this movie is a welcome change from the perspective of other traditional kung-fu movies like ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and has higher meanings entrenched throughout the feature (possibly something that I didn’t pick up on!!). Perhaps it can be explained by my lack of appreciation for cultural value in society. It is trying to appeal to too broad an audience (Chinese government including drama, romance and action fans) which could be a failing due to a lack of focus.

Overall Rating: 7.3/10

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: PAUL MARTINEZ
Date: 08/28/2004

Wow! And I have been told that I'm too critical in MY reviews. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion so here is mine. This might possibly be the most flawless film of the wu xia genre. Lets start with Jet Li. I never felt he was a "great actor" but he can portray that stoic character very well so the role of nameless was perfect for his skills. Maggie Cheung is one of the best actress in the world, period. There's nothing left to say. Tony Leung gives ANOTHER great performance as Broken Sword. Zhang Ziyi as always is breathtakingly beutiful she has some to grow as an actress but I feel the sky is the limit for her.
The story, which is not the usual "I want to rule the world of Martial Arts!". Which is the stamp of many wu xia stories, was simple but intricate at the same time. I don't want to see the Matrix trilogy 3 times to understand it but also not be able see what's coming a mile away either.
The visual effects were stunning and like CTHD made you feel like you were in that time period. While the soundtrack was similar to CTHD I didn't feel it was inapropiate for the setting this movie was being told in.
Now to the answer to the biggest complaints I've heard so far. First Donnie Yen being underused and the fight with Jet being disappointing. I feel Mr.Yen was underused. I think everyone remembers OUATIC 2 and wanted to see it surpassed. You're talking about one of the greatest scenes in the history of martial art films. It reasonable to say almost anything done would have paled in comparison. Second, the politcal agenda of this film. As a westerner I don't feel the right to answer this charge so I will remain silent on it. Lastly, the complaint of overuse of CGI which I wholeheartedly disagree with. This is a new century and like it or not CGI is a part of movie making magic. The art of wu xia movies lends itself to its process. Just as Sci-Fi and all the Super Hero movies which has become the rage in the states. If you want an example of too much CGI watch A Man Called Hero. This is just one man's opinion. I used to hate seeing these professional movie reviewers who ripped anything that wasn't some mundane droll. I always wanted to hear someone stop analyzing every nick and cranny and just enjoy a good movie. Please, go out and enjoy this one.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: zarrsadus
Date: 12/12/2003
Summary: Controversial or Enjoyable?

I went into this movie without having read any of the controversy surrounding it and really enjoyed myself. Great plot, visuals, presentation, acting, and action. Then I read some forums and see all this talk about what the movie really means, etc. My initial impression is that damn, this movie blows CTHD right out of the water. While I enjoyed CTHD, Hero raised the bar for what an epic, period film should be about. Visually stunning of course, with breathtaking images of China's landscape. This along with the soundtrack (reminiscient of CTHD) makes you feel like you're living during the Qin dynasty watching this happen. Jet Li gives a stellar performance and really renewed himself in my eyes after his recent films in America. However I would definately list all of the actors giving an equally outstanding performance. Chen Dao Ming was very convincing as the Emperor of Qin and I really enjoyed his scenes when he is talking to Nameless. The Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung chemistry was also great to watch, truely an all-star cast for this movie.

If I had any complaint at all it would be the story, which when I watched it the first time got me lost once or twice figuring out which scenario things were happening in. If you've only seen this once, then by all means see it again. The second and third time were twice as enjoyable as the first time I watched this. I knew what was going on as a whole and could fully appreciate the direction the movie was taking and why certain scenes were placed the way they were. Definately one of my all time favorite movies which I could watch again and again, regardless of what "political agenda" this movie might have. Enjoy this movie as just that, a movie, and it will not dissapoint. This definately deserves a 10/10.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: SteelwireMantis
Date: 07/17/2003
Summary: Quite enjoyable

This film was not as bad that many people put it as. This film is just a Jet Li/Zhang Yimou clashed remake of the incidents that provided the story of 1999's "The Emperor and the Assassin".

Jet Li plays Nameless, a law enforcer of a small state who has killed 3 of the most deadliest assassins of China (who were a threat to the King of Qin). Nameless tells his story but the King finds out a dark secret and many twists occur in the story.

Lets be honest, Chin Siu Tung is no Yuen Woo Ping when it comes to fight choreography, but he does seem to pull off some average-ish fights. The CGI, just as a lot of people would agree, is severely overdone. But the plot is very intruiging and the cast is very impressive. Although Jet Li does give a very impressive performance as Nameless, but the show is stolen by Leung Chiu Wai and Zhang Ziyi (even though her part is relatively small).

I wouldn't say that it is a terrible film, nor is it excellent, the cinematography by Doyle is excellent and some of the camerawork is very astonishing. Zhang Yimou gives a very recognised effort as a director and delivers entertainment.


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 05/15/2003
Summary: Sword fighting arty film

Firstly readin what keeyung said made a lot of sense, read her blurb!!

The much antcipated re duel of Donnie yen and Jet li was a great disappointment!! But this movie is not about the fight scenes!!

Visually stunning, the movie really reminds me of a arty film, only because there is not much dialogue.

The story itself is quite interesting. I heard the real story behind the movie was that SKY gave his life/head for Nameless so Nameless could get near to the Emperor to kill him but was discovered and killed by his soldiers. Tony Leung's and MAggie Cheungs character are made up (well this is what my friend said)

Anyway i did enjoy watching this movie with it's plot twists but it will inevitably be compared to Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon. It's hard to compare but the latter is better in my eyes


Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 05/10/2003
Summary: Pretty special

It sounded like a HK Cinema fan's ultimate wet dream... Zhang Yimou to direct a martial arts epic with Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Leung Chiu Wai, Zhang Ziyi and Donnie Yen in the cast, Ching Siu-Tung doing the action, Christopher Doyle the cinematography and Emil Wada the costumes. What more could you ask for? (Well, Brigitte Lin coming out of retirement and Yuen Wo Ping and Sammo Hung sharing the action director credits, perhaps).

I guess we have CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON to thank for making the wu xia world bankable again, and generating the interest and investment required to bring a project of this stature together. There's no doubt that the US Market was a major target, and US$ went into the funding. Given this it's a tragedy that Yimou let Miramax get their paws on it and effectively ruin any chances it had of major US success

Apart from Zhang Ziyi and the Tan Dun soundtrack (a terrible choice no doubt enforced by US investors), CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON is not a good reference point by which to evaluate HERO. Much more appropriate is Wong Kar Wai's ASHES OF TIME, with which it shares two lead actors and a cinematographer. HERO is definitely more commercially oriented, but shares a beauty and philosophical richness with AOT, and a certain melancholy mood.

The story of HERO starts off quite simply, as Jet Li begins to recount his martial triumphs to the Emperor of Qin. The tale is told in flashbacks which revisit and re-evaluate the same events, elaborating on and changing the story as we learn more. It's reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON, and is a great way of developing a mystery thriller. Zhang Yimou handles the building of the tale expertly, as one would expect from such a master film maker.

Zhang Yimou himself is such an accomplished cinematographer he hardly needed to hire somebody else for the job - but if there's anybody better than Yimou it's Christopher Doyle. I wonder how much conflict there was on set though, as I am sure each had very strong visions of how they wanted scenes to look. The result doesn't show any signs of it if such a conflict occured though, as the visual style seems exceptionally strong and focussed throughout. A large part of this is Yimou's use of bold colours to delineate the different sections of the story (The green, the red, the yellow, the blue, the white). With Emil Wada's stunning costumes and the great choice of locations, HERO is almost as rich in stunning imagery as ASHES OF TIME. It's a true work of art, harking back to Yimou's older films like SHANGHAI TRIAD and RAISE THE RED LANTERN - I'm really pleased to see him making such visual films again. The visuals are sometimes let down by some unconvincing CGI effects, unfortunately.

Zhang Yimou has never directed an action movie before, so people were clearly worried he wouldn't know what to do with the fight scenes that a wu xia movie needs more than anything else. It's been quite a few years since Ching Siu Tung has produced any really impressive work too, so I was rather worried - especially when I heard (from good authority) that Yimou had Ching had clashed on set. Apparently Zhang wanted more grounded, realistic kung fu, which really isn't Ching Siu Tung's thing (should have got Sammo or Yuen Wo Ping!). I guess Ching got the upper hand in the end, as the fight scenes are certainly not grounded or realistic - they're very much about the twirling and whirling and the graceful flying that Ching Siu Tung virtually defined. They're not as manic as he usually makes the action when he directs himself, though - a fact that sometimes makes the wirework look a bit awkward.

A real surprise is that the weakest fight scene of the film is that one that pits the two best martial artists together. Jet Li vs. Donnie Yen opens the film with some sword vs. spear action. There's some beautiful moments, but I felt the scene lacked impact and featured some awkward moves too. Oddly enough, the fight I enjoyed the most featured no real martial artistry at all - Maggie Cheung vs (well, you'll see) in a beautiful autumnal scene of falling leaves. I guess that's because Ching Siu Tung is really not working to his strengths when he tries to do "real" martial arts.

I had held off watching HERO for months, because as soon as I got the first released DVD (the DVD-5 from Guang Dong Face Ah) it was announced that the extended version of the film would be released in a few weeks. It's generally well known now that Zhang Yimou was persuaded to cut about 20 minutes from the film by the hatchet men at MiramAXE, who really must die first when the revolution comes. I figured the first time I see it I should see the best possible version, for maximum impact, so I was willing to wait. Well it's been 2 months now and the extended version is now indefinitely delayed due to legal issues, so I finally gave in and watched the DVD I'd had lying around for so long. Now that I've seen it I have to say I don't really see what another 20 minutes would add to the film - it seems quite complete and well paced at about 95 minutes. A little more development of Donnie Yen's character would be nice, but other than that it's hard to imagine what is missing. Longer action scenes maybe? Or perhaps just 20 minutes of Christopher Doyle's beautifully composed landscape shots, or close ups of Maggie Cheung dying.

Zhang Yimou is an extremely talented director in many respects, but perhaps the greatest is his ability to get incredible performances out of his cast. With such an illustrious cast on board he perhaps felt he didn't need to try as much though (or they weren't willing to listen), as the acting isn't as powerful as I had expected. It's still of a very high quality, but doesn't evoke the same strong emotions as some of the performances in ASHES OF TIME. Leung Chiu-Wai gets the top award for acting though, which will surprise few people. Zhang Ziyi only has a small part, but shows a lot of talent too - nice to see such skill in somebody that still has most of her career ahead of her. Of course, it was Zhang Yimou that discovered and nurtured her talent in THE ROAD HOME.

There are only two disappointments in HERO, for me. One is the special effects, which aren't up to the very latest standards. A little less use of CGI would have made it go a lot further (like in CTHD). The other is the soundtrack, which is really just much too similar to the Crouching Tiger soundtrack. It doesn't fit HERO as well, but it is still pretty evocative and effective - just too similar to CTHD.

I still intend to pick up the extended version of HERO when it's released, to see what Zhang Yimou's ideal vision for the film was. Even running shorter than he really wanted it's a mighty fine film though, and one I have no hesitation in recommending if anybody hasn't seen it yet. If MiramAXE ever do get round to releasing it in the US, I hope it does well.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 05/02/2003
Summary: Entertaining but too OTT.

Firstly, this film has nothing on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. But the fights are on par if not better. Donnie and Jet are great (making up for Once upon a time in China 2) and the story really comes together in the end. If you want more detail on the history, watch The Emperor and the Assassin. As a movie, Hero is visually incredible, but the CGI is a little over done. I have to give Zhang Ziyi a few harsh words though, her part wasn't big, but she was pretty poor. My advice, give Hero a go!

Reviewed by: aznxmonki
Date: 05/02/2003
Summary: It was not that great...

Jet Li is back, but he doesn't have that star appeal that he used to have. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are wasted talent in this film. Only worth watching he you like Chinese history and redundant CGI. Gets boring there in every other aspect. Soundtrack is nothing to be desired. (I also didn't like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon",so this review may be a little bias.)


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: addy
Date: 04/09/2003
Summary: Gold and Jade outside...

I'm amazed of how commercially successful this movie is. Go for it if you are attracted by big budget flicks by famous movie makers and celeberty big-shots.

In my opinion, it's no more than a propaganda film heavily invested by the Chinese Communist Government. Yes it's beautifully made -MTV style! It's a visual feast, but don't bite on it.
Like the old Chinese describing a bad orange: "Gold and Jade on the outside, rotten inside."

Reviewed by: carrot car
Date: 03/08/2003
Summary: What a Waste

The stars of this movie could be SOOOO much better than this. Maggie's appearance is so rare. I believe she really wasted her time in this project. She is capable of much greater work than this. The director is not great here either. He held back Hong Kong, no, Asia's best actors with his artistic interpretation of the story. Jet Li's action is NOT displayed here. His appearance in Hong Kong films these days is rare as well. I would have taken all the Crouching Tiger, Matrix-like computer special effects out of this movie. The one scene where Jet Li's character fights the guy with the metal spear was so fake. It looked like it was taken right out of a Mountain Dew Commercial, or Crouching Tiger. I would much prefer to see action that Jet Li is known for, then put the artistic touches on that. 6 of 10 stars.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 02/25/2003
Summary: Dull and Lifeless Spectacle

Zhang Yimou's "Hero" has a cast of leading stars, with hundreds of extras; great scenic locations; beautiful cinematography; dazzling choreography; detailed costumes; and talented art direction. So what went wrong? Zhang takes elements from the Kurosawa school of filmmaking by using the differing takes on the same story motif from "Rashomon" and the rain of arrows from "Throne of Blood." Some viewers will get caught up in the parable of using the King of Qin to represent modern China or make accusations as to its propaganda value, but as a film, "Hero" falls flat. The movie is artifice in search of a soul, with even higher pretensions than "Ashes of Time," but not as entertaining as the Wong Kar Wai effort.

The denouement in "Hero" is its strength as Chan Diy Ming, playing the King of Qin, steals the show. Chan has Jet Li tell the story of his encounter with the assassins he was charged to dispose. The action scenes are rather dull with the overuse of slow motion photography that made the fights feel ponderous. The wire work flying was well executed but lifeless, too. The film's highlight is in its stunning camera work and cinematography. Everything looked great. Chris Doyle's visual achievement cannot be overstated. The work of the actors, on the other hand was left wanting as the performances felt forced and wooden. This is surprising given Zhang's excellent past work with the actors in "Red Sorghum," "Raise the Red Lantern," and "To Live."

Zhang tried to make an action movie but his art film sensibilities got the best of him. He apparently couldn't make up his mind as to which way to proceed and the resulting film straddled the fence between entertainment and conceit. We are left to recite the mantra: "woulda, coulda, shoulda" over and over again.

Reviewed by: xiaoka
Date: 02/13/2003
Summary: best chinese language film in a LONG time, kick's CTHD's ass up and down the street...

(minor spoilers here guys) -
I think the previous reviewer is missing the bigger picture. My initial reaction was to assume that the storyline was an analogy to china and reunification, etc, but couldn't it just as easily be about the entire world? Also don't forget that the fundamental message is that violence ISN'T the answer. (don't get bogged down in the details and miss these bigger pieces of Zhang Yimou's message). 'Tian Xia' means everything.

This is easily the best Chinese Language film since.... Zhang Yimou's last great picture? Its 100x better than Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (which was not that popular in Chinese countries, as its pretty cliched to those familiar w/ the genre).

Action is great, cinematography is great. acting is great. MUSIC is great.... I saw it in a theater in HK, definitely see it in a theater if you can, DVDs or VCDs don't do it justice. Only thing that bugged me was the over use of slow-mos... i had to pee really bad by the end of the film so I was painfully aware of how long each scene was dragging on...

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: keeyung
Date: 02/12/2003
Summary: A disgrace

The biggest shame in the history of Chinese cinema. I can't even be bothered to discuss the enormous amount of bad and ridiculous plagiarisms, because the one and only question eventually is: how could one enjoys a justification of the Tiananmen massacre and generally speaking of the blood-lust of the totalitarian Chinese regime? Very interesting as a propaganda film though. Its disgusting aestheticisation of militarism and nationalism is compellingly confirming that China is quietly doing the transition from stalinism to fascism while the whole planet believes that this country is "opening" and dreams about China's so-called world's biggest market. Appalling.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: movie_crazy
Date: 02/11/2003
Summary: My dream come true!

Since I live in Canada, there is not a chance that I am going to see this movie in a at least year. So I spent an entire night downloading it from the Internet. I caught a very good version, the image qualite is near DVD but unfortunately there was no sound. Nonetheless I enjoyed the movie immensely. It's awesome, terrific, out-of-this-world. I can't wait to buy a DVD. The fights are as spectacular as you would expect and the photography is stunningly beautiful. Ever since I watched Jet Li fight Donnie Yen in Once upon a time in China II, I have been dreaming of a rematch between these two of my favorite martial artists. Now my dream has come true and I have never been happier.

Undoubtedly a classic.

Rating: 9.5

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 01/21/2003

I finally saw the movie last night - after anticipating the release of this film for over a year, my expectations were sky-high (despite some of the less than enthusiastic reviews on other boards), so it's all the more remarkable that the movie managed to not only meet my expectations, but actually far exceeded them.

The most remarkable aspect of the film is obviously the visuals: Chris Doyle's cinematography is nothing less than stunning, and combined with the detailed, exquisite sets and costume design, it creates a hauntingly beautiful tapestry of memorable images that weave together into a spellbinding visual fabric. Everywhere you look, the amount of attention paid to details is evident, and the application of color themes to various retellings of the story (red, white, green) is a lot more effective than I would have imagined. Zhang Yimou and Doyle combine these bold designs with natural elements (the water images in the first duel, the floating leaves in the fight between Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi), and with light symbolic touches (e.g. drawing parallels between martial arts and music, or between swordplay and calligraphy). Dozens of images still linger in my head, such as the green sheets slowly fluttering to the ground, or the old man serenely drawing calligraphy in the sand amidst a barrage of arrows. Many of the individual scenes play on iconic images typical for this genre, but Zhang Yimou tries and mostly succeeds in trying to bring fresh angles or surprising variatins into the familiar visual language used by wuxia films. More than once, I went "ah..." at the sight of a particularly stunning tableaux, wishing that I could freeze it and frame it on my walls. I always considered Ashes of Time as having the most beautifully composed images in the wuxia genre, but that honour now goes to HERO.

The story is equally intriguing. Similar to Rashomon, a sequence of events is retold a number of times, each time offering new interpretations of the same events and shining a different light on the motivations of the main characters. All this is tightly framed by the encounter between Nameless (Jet Li) and the Emperor, and while some have complained about this narrative structure being confusing, I actually found it quite gripping and not at all difficult to follow. The story is quite different from the typical wuxia setup, and is driven by more complex issues than the usual tales of revenge and/or battle for supremacy in the Martial Arts world. The only drawback would be that Zhang's approach makes it a little more difficult for the audience to actually invest emotions into the characters, as none of them are presented as clear villains/heroes.

The acting is uniformly strong, and while Jet Li probably has the most scenes that allow him to showcase is growing talents as an actor, it is the characters of Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Flying Snow (Maggie CHeung) who have the greatest impact and whose relationship forms the emotional centre of the film. Donnie Yen is in the movie only very briefly for one fight scene, and Zhang Ziyi is clearly a supporting character (although she does have some very memorable moments).

The action choreography ranges from competent to stunning, and is marred only by some rather unconvincing CGI effects. There's quite a few fights in the film, and they are mostly filmed in a poetic manner, lacking any sense of real threat or danger, or the raw intensity and energy of Yuen Woo Ping's rooftop chase in CTHD. Speaking of the latter, I suppose comparisons are unavoidable, especially because there are some strikingly similar elements like Tan Dun's music. Well, as much as I liked CTHD, I believe HERO is a much better film, but at the same time will never achieve the type of success with Western audiences that CTHD was able to get. HERO is much more demanding of the audience, and less catered to Western sensibilities. However, I still thought it was not just a visual delight but I found it intellectually stimulating, exciting and emotionally gripping (my girlfriend was sobbing through the end...).

Highly highly recommended!

Reviewed by: Souxie
Date: 01/18/2003
Summary: Fantastic

I got to see this at the JP cinema Causeway Bay - on that BIG screen.
Anyway, I loved this movie and I think the rest of the cinema did too. Everyone was as good as I hoped they be, the story keeps you guessing (a little like a Cardassian play; it's not who dies but who killed them and why that's important), you feel compelled to pay attention the whole time... Not one person left to go to the toilet, no-one's mobile rang, and (not to give anything away) but the two blokes either side of me were crying as much as I was at the crucial points.
The ending is a surprise even after you've worked it out for yourself - you don't need to have a good grasp of Chinese history to know what will happen, but again it's the way it happens which is a surprise.
Donnie Yen gets good fights with Jet Li (with a twist), Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are the lovers / opponents / unbeatable warriors, Jet Li is the ultimate assassin, and Zhang Ziyi is the faithful sword-bearer/apprentice. Simply fantastic, not as sweeping and doesn't get lost in telling the story like CTHD, and better in a lot of respects. And it has Tony Leung!
See this movie!

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 01/14/2003
Summary: Inspired

Interestingly, this film is framed by a conversation a would-be assassin (Jet Li Lian Jie) is having in audience with the Qin emperor, and their recalling and postulating the events leading up to their present meeting/confrontation. This conversation is brilliantly done, has several plot twists, and builds in intensity right until the very ultimate showdown. (Watch closely as it can be a bit confusing if not misleading.)

Zhang Yimou's film is expressed in incredible epic and artistic visuals incorporating much symbolism in what brings to mind one of my favorite films--Wong Kar Wai's "Dong Xie Xi Du" (Ashes of Time)--but on a much larger scale and budget.

However, unlike Ashes of Time where I personally could relate to Wong Kar Wai's interpretation of Jin Yong's OuYang Feng (played by Leslie Cheung), I was unable to identify with any specific individual here because there was not a lot of character developing dialog. Instead, I developed a feeling for the "higher purpose" all the characters are attempting to achieve. And ultimately that makes this a very moving and satisfying film.

The film also does the details very well. For instance, the action sequences--especially the one between Donnie Yen and Jet Li--are just brilliantly choreographed, and artistically expressed via slow motion and symbolism, while being only somewhat fantastic and impressionistic. I could watch it endlessly and never tire of it.

I would also note that Li Lian Jie both as a legendary action star, and something of a true modern Chinese hero, makes him really well suited for this role, just as he was similarly well-suited to play Huang Fei Hong. He's perfectly cast here.

Of course, it was also nice to see Maggie Cheung and Little Tony Leung turn in a great performance, and have their usual chemistry--despite the limited dialog they have.

Truly inspired.

Reviewer Score: 9