After catching House of Flying Daggers, I was curious to see Hero, as it was the director’s first attempt at wuxia — a type of martial arts film. As you can see in my Flying Daggers review, I wasn’t too impressed with that film. However, Hero had much more going for it and proved to be a far superior effort.
Hero stars Jet Li as a “nameless” warrior who is summoned before the king to report how he killed the country’s most deadly assassins. But all isn’t as it seems, and the king begins to suspect that perhaps the nameless warrior is really a killer in disguise.
What struck me from the very beginning of the film was the beautiful imagery. Zhang Yimou has a clear love of color, as is apparently not only in this film, but also some of his other work, such as House of Flying Daggers and Raise the Red Lantern. Both make great use of color.
In the case of Hero, color dominates each portion of the film. The story is told in a series of flashbacks. In several cases, the flashbacks are retold repeatedly, all slightly different and all featuring a different dominate color. Be it red, green, white or blue, it just pops off the screen with vibrant electricity. The color is complimented by stylish uses of slow-motion, which serve to highlight several of the fight sequences.
However, I was actually found the House of Flying Daggers fight sequences much more interesting and entertaining than Hero. There were several battles throughout Hero, but I didn’t find myself impressed by any of them. The best sequence was when the king’s army lays siege to a small village by firing hundreds of arrows into it. I thought it was pretty unique, and a rare moment of real suspense. People repeatedly get cut down by the storm of arrows, until the nameless warrior and one of the assassins he was looking to kill go outside to stop the falling arrows in Jedi-like fashion.
The part where this film really begins to drag, however, is the repeated “retelling” of the relationship between two of the characters, Broken Sword and Flying Snow. It isn’t until the end where we really understand the two, but it gets told and retold in so many different ways throughout the majority of the film that it’s a little old by the time the truth is revealed. And, honestly, as that point I was ready for the film to just end.
I did like the moral dilemma of the main character, “Nameless”, played by Jet Li. Everything that he does throughout the movie is for one goal — to kill the king. However, his mission gets thrown into question by an unlikely source, and the moral dilemma is an interesting one. It’s basically a case of “do the ends justify the means”? If peace can only be achieved through bloody violence, does that mean one must accept that violence?
I also liked the way the story was told, through flashbacks that are more about perception than reality. First we are treated to Jet Li’s version of events. When the king begins to suspect that he has lied, he offers his own version of what happened. Through each retelling, we eventually arrive at the truth. It was a unique storytelling method which I thought was really cleverly used. Plus, Yimou’s use of color to separate each retelling helped make the flashbacks interesting to watch.
When I viewed the film, I tried an experiment and listened to it in English, while the subtitles played at the bottom of the screen. I highly recommend that if you get this DVD, avoid listening to the English dubbing. Stick to the subtitles, because the dialogue is much more interesting. The English audio version dumbs it down.
There are only a few special features on this DVD. They include “Hero Defined”, a basic fluff piece, and “Inside the Action: A Conversation with Quentin Tarantino & Jet Li”, which is interesting to watch if you’re curious about the career of Jet Li. It focuses primarily on his experience in martial arts films, with a few observations and gushes from Tarantino.