Movie Review
Ying Xiong
Hero poster
By Jennifer Alpeche     Published September 7, 2004
US Release: August 27, 2004

Directed by: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Jet Li

Running Time: 96 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $53,583,000
Everything in the film seems to have been planned with precision, all leading up to an emotional final showdown.
Throughout history, there have been those who have placed country before themselves. Some whose names are known, and most whose names are not; soldiers, warriors, and countless individuals who have pursued a greater good: for their family, their country, or a vision of what could be.

Zhang Yimou?s stunning "Hero" opens with the arrival of a local hero (Jet Li). Referred to throughout the film as Nameless, he is the key to the truth and to the future of China, which during the time of "Hero," is fragmented. Warring states battle for control and the dreaded King of Qin (Daoming Chen), whom Nameless has been summoned to meet with, desires to unite all of the factions into one country under one name.

It is a vision that has met with a great deal of opposition. Many have died as a result of it, and the king himself has been the target of assassination attempts for the past 10 years. However, when they first meet, it would seem that Nameless has rid the king of this perpetual threat, as he has defeated not one but three of the king?s principal assassins.

Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung) are the names of these assassins, and as poetic as their names are, the film is all that and more. Almost visible is the paintbrush of Zhang Yimou, as he tells us the story of "Hero" in harsh reds, solemn blues, serene greens, and tragic whites. It is a beautiful film to watch, and an involving one to follow ? a mystery that reveals itself with impact, touching the audience with its simple message, while leaving an uncertainty that keeps one engaged until the very end.

Indeed, the story is the thing in "Hero," for there are different versions as to how Nameless came about in defeating the king?s foes. The reputations of Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword are impeccable ? they are truly the best of their kind. Yet Nameless was able to dispose of each, a point of contention for the King of Qin, who not surprisingly is hesitant to trust anything or anyone at face value.

The meeting with the king brings Nameless close to the emperor. As we learn, the death of one assassin would bring him within 20 paces, and the death of another, 10 more; thus in their meeting, Nameless and the king share an uneasy, perhaps dangerous, proximity. Their conversation is private and each man is vulnerable, but which is more so? Was the king wise in letting this nameless hero so close?

As Nameless relates his triumphs, the king asks questions, aiming to get to the center of truth. And what would that truth be? The evidence given in support of Nameless? victories -- two priceless swords and an impressive, original piece of calligraphy -- is studied closely by the king, as he and Nameless continue their duel of words in the form of truths, tales, and theories. As they carry on, we see the different story versions play out in flashback. It is only in the end that we find out who is who, what truly happened, and what it all means for our hero, the king, and the future of China.

It is amazing how the same story can be told or interpreted in so many different ways. The smallest of details removed, and the entire tone changes; that same detail added in, and the story turns from unbelievable to probable. In the flashbacks of "Hero,? one finds the clues and important information is not only related by words, but also through color and fight sequences that are more than just perfectly choreographed action. The fights are used in the same way that dance is used in a musical, and the emotion created by a ballet-like fight on water or a duel between lovers in the desert is a powerful one.

As Nameless, Jet Li wisely plays his character as cool and distant, a determined man on a mission to succeed. As the couple eternally in love, Flying Snow and Broken Sword, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are a moving pair who display a range of emotions, depending on the version being told. Indeed, each of the actors, including Donnie Yen as the confident Sky and Zhang Ziyi as the loyal servant, Moon, rise to the challenge of playing more than one character, though their names remain the same.

Christopher Doyle?s cinematography (along with Caleb Deschanel?s work for "The Passion of the Christ") has been the finest I?ve seen this year ? so many scenes are of stunning beauty. Also beautiful in "Hero" is the art direction, the authentic costume recreations, and the complementary original score.

Zhang Yimou has made a film reminiscent of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but one that emerges as original on its own. The power of color to set the tone of a story is used in an incredible way, and the fight sequences are truly telling as clues to the mystery at hand. Everything in the film seems to have been planned with precision, all leading up to an ending in which revelation, choice, and resolution are wrapped up in an emotional final showdown. "Hero" is simply wonderful, a film that celebrates those who may not be known, but whose impact lives forever.
Jennifer's Grade: A-
Jennifer's Overall Grading: 6 graded movies
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'Hero' Articles
  • Greg's review C+
    September 7, 2004    The problem with Hero is that it presents a good idea, but doesn?t really go anywhere with it. -- Greg Ward
  • Craig's review C+
    August 30, 2004    Hero has so much that will shock you that it's a shame the story doesn't give us quite as much reason to care. -- Craig Younkin
  • Lee's review B
    August 27, 2004    This film is artsy and yet still gives in to a visual flare as irresistible as Crouching Tiger meets Kill Bill. -- Lee Tistaert