"In a distant, war torn land, at the violent dawn of a new dynasty over two thousand years ago, a ruthless emperor has risen to power with an iron fist and the strength of his massive armies. To control everything, he will stop at nothing. A fearless, loyal warrior with no name (Jet Li), is the lone survivor from amongst his people. His mission is to destroy the powerful emperor and his three faithful assassins, and avenge the destruction of all that was meaningful to him."
My friend F and I went to see Zhang Yimou's (who directed Raise The Red Lantern, a favorite of mine)Ying xiong (Hero) yesterday afternoon. Since it is playing at Pacific Place, the plan was to browse and shop at Williams Sonoma after the movie. I needed a new rolling pin and a vegetable peeler. Two birds with one proverbial stone...
Until I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I had never been much of a fan of violent, Kun-Fu films or Martial Arts epics. But after reading some great reviews on Hero (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2002 Academy Awards), I really wanted to see for myself if this much touted film was anywhere near the beauty and poetry of Ang Lee's epic.
I won't go into the gist of the story for fear of ruining the movie for you (this is a sort of "who dunnit") other than to say there is an assassination plot against the first Chinese emperor (Qin dynasty). But what I will say is that Hero is beautiful to watch. Yimou's cinematographer skills (remember Ju Dou?) are once again evident i nthis film. The use of color (saturated reds, greens, oranges, yellows and blues), the cinematography (landscapes are amazing), the choreography of the battle scenes, the costumesand art direction, the score. Magic! It is poetry in motion, inwhich warriors possess superhuman
All those silks flowing in the air, the battlefield's dust, the wind blowing beautiful yellow leaves, blood red ink (calligraphy as religion), even drops of rain and the slightest of skimmings of mountain lake surfaces are so crisp and gorgeous, captured with such a way (an almost scientific detail) that you wish they never end. Those were the sequences I enjoyed the most.
One thing though...Hero seems to lacks the feeling, sentiment (and sentimentality) of Crouching Tiger. For some that might be a good thing. But even when Hero is not the "chick flick" (ha!) Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was labeled as, even with themes of lovers torn by jealousy and war, Hero feels cold and detached. I did not get to a place of deep sympathy or empathy for any of the characters.
It might have everything to do with the anticlimactic narrative structure (think Kurosawa’s Rashomon) were events in the story are related from different (and contradictory) points of view. Interesting, even clever, but in my opinion, not really conducive to in-depth character study, at least not in this case.
I could understand their motivations and rationale behind their actions (the subdued, even minimalist performances from these actors are just wonderful to watch) but we never got past "acquaintance status". There was no real investment in character development, in their lives and stories. That, I must say, is something Ang Lee's films never lack.
Towards the end of the film, a man seated, a row away (a man in his early 70's) must have been touched by the scene in such a way, that we saw him (and heard him) cry, wiping tears away and blowing his nose into his handkerchief over and over. See, that made me a little verklempt! However, it is funny how, even with such a touching score I never felt like reaching for a tissue myself.
During most of the film the theater was absolutely silent. No one made a peep. It was that enthralling. Only one scene got a slight chuckle from the audience, when in the middle of a fight scene, Jet-Li's character requests one more song from a (blind?) musician that was playing nearby.
The rest of the film is allegory and imagery, stunning panoramas, explosions of color and sound, water particles, wind, leaves, music, bodies in motion, absolutely amazing fight scenes. This is where the movie shines. This is why you should go see Hero. For the exquisitely composed frames that stay in your mind long after the movie is over. Perhaps not really for your heart but for your eyes only.
In Mandarin with English subtitles
Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Donnie Yen
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 36 min
AMC Pacific Place 11
(12:30), (1:30), (3:00), (4:00), (5:30)
6:30, 8:00, 9:00, 10:30