Review Date:
Director: Zhang Yimou
Writer: Li Feng, Wang Bin, Zhang Yimou
Producers: Zhang Yimou
Jet Li as Nameless
Tony Leung as Broken Sword
Maggie Cheung as Flying Snow
A local assassin is invited to hang with the Emperor of China, after word gets out that he killed the three leading assassins, out to whack the Emperor. To thank him for a job well done, the Grand One invites the man to the palace in order to relate his stories. As the local assassin tells of his tales, the Emperor listens with one ear and wonders. A movie about a hero…ensues (not Dustin Hoffman).
Movies like HERO are the reason I still absolutely love doing what I do “for a living”. After months of people emailing me to see this film, last week’s box-office scoring it as a major success in North America and the entire continent of China making it the most successful movie of all-time in their homeland, I still wasn’t particularly convinced of this film’s greatness, as I sat to watch what I assumed to be a “Crouching Tiger rip-off” (yeah, I said it). Well, penetrate me twice with a metal sword and call me ignorant because this film didn’t only blow me away via its visual beauty, lush settings and orchestral mastery, but it actually had something to say as well? Anyone who wants to find a deeper message in this film, and for that matter, a direct connection to some of the issues of war that the world is faced with today, may find some interesting Zen suggestions illustrated within. Do the violent methods used to achieve peace make sense? Is the whole “eye for an eye” tactic a worthwhile effort for all mankind? Is the greater good of all, more important than the legacy of one individual? Will killing one brutal dictator move us towards that greater peace? Of course, some of the answers to those questions and others, can be answered in the ideological differences between a democratic nation and those abiding by communism, but as per much in life, there is something to be said for both sides, and this film certainly offers food for thought, if anything.

But the film’s message about war and the greater method to achieve peace isn’t its only story-line, in fact, it also builds through it a loving relationship between two assassins, who despite their roles in life, find it difficult to relate to one another, especially when it comes to the sharing of true feelings. As per many Asian films, it also strings deep through its roots, the importance of honor, loyalty, selflessness, courage and one’s sense of purpose in life. All of these snippets from the film are related to us via a number of flashbacks, many of which are showcased from one point of view at first, and then skewed and shown via others’ eyes as well. This was one of the film’s only small drawbacks, in my opinion, as its over-use of the Rashomon-style of storytelling, sucked away some of the impact from earlier scenes, which after a while, started to feel a tad redundant (even a little confusing), and to a greater extent, suspicious of being untrue. But even with that small issue, the film itself worked overall because it looked absolutely gorgeous on the big screen, with colors flying out at you like fireworks in the sky and many scenes assembled as paintings with varying backgrounds. A truly stunning visual masterpiece, many scenes from this movie still replay themselves in my mind, with the film’s perfectly accentuated string musical accompaniments, only helping to reinforce its glorious sense of meditation, even through its fight scenes.

Which brings me to the film’s many combat sequences, all of which, like CROUCHING TIGER, take on different settings and styles, and all of which, brought with them mucho intensity, agility and sense of wonder. The ones that stuck out in my mind included a massive army arrow attack, a glorious catfight between two ladies set against the many yellow leaves of a windy forest (alright, it wasn’t really a “catfight”, but you get my drift), a back-and-forth featuring assassins tip-toe-ing over the waters, another one set to dripping raindrops and others. The actors were all also very good, particularly Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, as the dueling lovers, as well as Zhang Ziyi, but mostly for looking absolutely loveable, as she does in every one of her starring roles (call me!). All in all, this is one of those movies that you could watch over and over again, if only because it is absolutely stunning to behold (watch it on DVD with the sound off and it still works!), and really seemed to bring over me…well, this strange sense of peace. Weird, eh? It was like watching paintings and poetry come to life…intermixed with sword fights. One of its final shots featuring a wall impaled almost-entirely with arrows was also brilliantly conceived and executed. But the film’s also got something to say for anyone paying even deeper attention, as well as some lovey-dovey stuff for the ladies out there (or the ultra-sensitive guys). I do have a question for Jet Li though: where was DMX, yo?

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian