King Qin or Chin (Daoming Chen), the semi-legendary first emperor & uniter of all China, for whom China itself is named, is in Hero (Ying xiong, 2002) still in the process of cementing his legacy when a Hero called Nameless arrives at court to reveal how it came to be that he killed the infamous Three Assassins.
The story unfolds in flashbacks as we see how Nameless got to this point in his career, then concludes with what he has really intended all along.
Visually Hero has often been declared to be poetry, & that's as good a term as any to convey the stunning feast for the eyes. It's extremely violent, occasionally absurdly so, but with so high a level of aesthetic concerns, it never for a moment seems lessened as visual art.
This is no mere martial arts epic because, if you've seen maybe a thousand wuxia (Chinese fight costumers), you've even then never seen any that looked quite so much like a series of romanticized paintings of heroic battle.
The cinematography & color palate are unreal in their intensity. And the cast includes individuals of such extreme beauty as to fit perfectly into the heightened romanticism & artifice of the settings.
Zhang Ziyi as Moon is indeed as beautiful as the moon. Jet Li as Nameless & Maggie Cheung as the martial heroine Flying Snow are so sexily gorgeous they seem more likely to be divinities of beauty than mortal beings faking it in a movie.
It could be argued that this romance of violence is a mite fatuous, as war is hell, not the heavenly activity shown here. And the future Emperor of All China as portrayed is such a bad man, whose badness is excused as the ends justifying the means, well, one cannot help but think of it as accidental apologetics for Chairman Mao's more dubious activities in cementing a people's republic.
To me Hero wasn't the equal of the same director's follow-up The House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu, 2004) because Hero did seem like it was too much a series of beautiful paintings without much in the way of characterization, emotional credibility, or story.
What story does develop is straight out of Sergio Leone, as the Man with No Name finally reveals his secret agenda.
Clever to a fault, the story has been compared to Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) which is about the subjectivity of truth. Hero is actually more about telling whoppers, & to some extent it is a disappointment that the best bits in the film were falsehoods.
Before committing our time to any film, we already know, if forced to think about it, that filmic fiction isn't real. The trick is to make it seem real. To pull the full-stop button & show the viewer like a poke in the eye "this is all made up" destroys the very purpose of fiction, which is to be believed for the duration no matter how fabular.
And just try to count the number of arrows it takes to stop Nameless. It's hard to know if this pincushion extravaganza is seriously intended to be awesome, or done tongue in cheek. Whether one laughs at it as comedy or drops their jaw in stupified amaze, depends on frame of mind while watching.
Hero is a must-see on the basis of its design & photography, but if one pays too close attention, the other required components for a great film fall short, so one is left with wonderful eye-candy only.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl