Hero (2004)

on August 27, 2004 by Chris Wiegand
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This latest picture from Zhang Yimou ("Raise The Red Lantern") is preceded by a hefty reputation. The most expensive Chinese movie in history, "Hero" stormed the domestic box office and won nominations for Best Foreign Language Film at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Zhang's tragic martial arts tale also fared well with audiences at the 2003 Berlinale, where it won a special prize for innovation.

Reunited yet again, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung play two warriors who stand in the way of an ambitious king in one of the several kingdoms of China in the third century B.C. With an eye to becoming emperor of a unified nation, the king offers a bounty to anyone willing to dispose of the pair. Enter Jet Li, a nameless swordsman with ambitions of his own...

  "Hero's" thrilling mixture of the audacious and the exquisite offers the viewer a myriad of treats, from Zhang's fluid direction and awesome ambition (watch for a POV shot amidst a flurry of flying spears) to his unfeasibly attractive quartet of leading actors. Ziyi Zhang is as luminous as ever, while Cheung and Leung say more with one glance than many actors can convey in an entire movie.

Crossover appeal is inordinately high here, although "Hero" is perhaps unlikely to repeat the runaway international success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It's as sumptuous as Ang Lee's picture--maybe moreso--and comes with its own selection of far-fetched set pieces, yet Zhang's grasp on the narrative (split, "Rashomon"-style, into different stories) is a little less convincing.

Production-wise, this is a consummate job with strong sound design, typically sterling cinematography from Chris Doyle and a score that's full of sorrow. A striking color scheme adds much to the movie--witness Leung and Cheung's his 'n' hers outfits, used to reflect moods at different stages in the story. Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung and Ziyi Zhang. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Written by Li Feng, Zhang Yimou and Wang Bin. Produced by Bill Kong and Zhang Yimou. A Miramax release. Martial Arts/Action. Mandarin-language; subtitled. Rated PG-13 for stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality. Running time: 98 min

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