DVD Review: Hero
Directed by Yimou Zhang
Written by Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang
Hero is a mildly entertaining wuxia movie with heavily stylized cinematography and a tad too much melodrama. This film is neither a membrane powerhouse nor a chop-socky fest, but rests somewhere in between, with a script more powerful than a typical eastern kung fu flick, and martial arts superior to what you would find in an western action film. If it was not so overdramatic, it would’ve been an exceptional film, but the heavy handed ham of many scenes make it difficult to take most of Hero seriously.
Told primarily through flashbacks, Hero centers around a master swordsman, Nameless, named so because of the strict naming conventions of the warring states of China. At the start of the film, Nameless is summoned to see the King of Qin (a state in China before its unification), having killed the three most deadly assassins of an opposing state. The remainder of the movie consists of Nameless recounting his exploits to the King. Scenes are often revisited and told from different perspective, sometimes with drastically different events taking place.
The main focus of this movie is color. Each flashback has a different color that it focuses on, connected with the emotions that are laden within the scenes. It may sound out for a film to focus so much attention on the color, but this ends up being one of the most impressive aspects of the film. In addition for helping to convey the mood of scenes, they give an impressive artistic perspective on the film. The colors practically seep out of the film into your brain. Yimou Zhang even said in an interview (included in the DVD extras) that he expects when people think back on Hero, they will remember colors, and this is what he wants. As impressive as the colors are in the film, they are not able to cover up the problems of the film.
One of the biggest annoyances of the film is the over-the-top nature of everything that’s done. Although this is good thing to use during action sequences, parts of the film become absolutely ludicrous as a result. There are entire shots that are put in for no purpose other than to make things more dramatic. One scene of the film involves several thousand people asking questions in unison. It is supposed to be a serious scene, but I found myself unable to stifle giggles while watching it. The script too is unnecessarily melodramatic. Characters often act with the desperate attention grabbing monologues you’d expect to only find in a Shakespearean play. Fortunately, the story and characters are interesting enough to maintain interest in the plot. The script has enough interesting events and surprises to keep you watching, and the characters are rather likeable once you get past their oratorical prose. There has apparently been some controversy voiced about the theme of the script, as it is pro-totalitarian (a complaint that has been voiced about some of his prior films). Although there is certainly legitimacy to these complaints, I do not feel that the political subtexts made me enjoy the film any less.
This movie is not quite an action film, but not quite a drama. Unfortunately, instead of taking the best parts of both worlds, it merely touches on bits and pieces of each; a jack of all trades, but master of none. Some of the action in the movie is absolutely spectacular, but much of it is boring and slow compared to other wuxia films. This is partially caused by casting actors with no martial arts experience in combat roles. There are many scenes where real and computer generated objects are stuck on-screen merely to obscure the action that is going on. It’s a rather irritating cheat that’s found in many scenes. People looking for a kung fu fix will not be able to find it in this film.
My greatest enjoyment of this film actually came from its brilliant soundtrack. Composed by Dun Tan, the music is a mixture of traditional Chinese and modern theatrical music. Its effects are absolutely stunning. It perfectly accompanies the film, sometimes tightly integrating into action, at other times complementing the emotions on-screen. I would’ve loved if the film came with an isolated soundtrack, instead of containing an advertisement to buy the CD.
Although the DVD has several extras, much of it is just marketing hype for the film and its stars. Audio is available in Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital DTS, English and French, but subtitles are only available in English and Spanish. Storyboards for three scenes in the film can be viewed while watching the shots, which was rather interesting. Two featurettes were included, one on the making of Hero, another about the people involved with Hero and previous work they’ve done. Though the making of Hero did contain some interesting parts, it was primarily an advertisement for the film. The other featurette is consists of Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li discussing previous films that the cast and crew was involved with, and spoke very little about Hero itself. It offered nothing but a series of advertisements.
I am giving Hero a Consider Watching rating. If you’re looking for a film that isn’t too cerebral, but has some action to it, this film will entertain you. It probably won’t appeal to fans of action or kung fu movies, because the action in the film has been done better, and people interested in a drama might become annoyed with the frequent interspersed action sequences. The film is not terrible, but what it tries to do has been done more proficiently before.
Hero gets a mediocre 42 thumbs up.