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"You'll see more billowing garments here than at the Dom DeLuise look-alike convention.."










The Masked Reviewer

If you're asking yourself "Hey, where's Dustin Hoffman and Geena Davis," then you're probably reading the wrong review for Hero.  That's the 1992 movie about a con man and an air plane crash.  This is the (practically) brand new film from China starring Jet Li.  The two movies have almost nothing in common, other than the title and that neither of them feature a guest appearance by Kermit the Frog.

Fans of Hong Kong or Chinese cinema will undoubtedly recognize many of the actors in this movie.  Jet Li has starred in a number of American films such as Romeo Must Die, but he's internationally better known for Once Upon a Time in China, among other classics.  The film also stars Maggie Cheung, who Jackie Chan fans will recognize as May from the Police Story films.  Then there's Donnie Yen, Iron Monkey star, and evil martial arts master in films like Shanghai Knights.  Also appearing as a bad guy (or girl) in a Jackie Chan vehicle is Ziyi Zhang, who was in Rush Hour 2.  She is better known as a principle character in a certain other film involving tigers, dragons, and lots of wires.  That movie will not be mentioned here.

Why is that?  The Masked Reviewer wants to write this review without frequent reference to that movie.  You know, the one with the hidden and the crouching and the wires and the Chow-Yun Fats. 

So, what's the dealie-o with Hero?  The first thing to mention is Quentin Tarantino.  For the U.S. release, every trailer and ad mentions that Quentin Tarantino is a producer.  As far as the Masked Reviewer can tell, he had absolutely nothing to do with the production of the film.  He just wanted Miramax to distribute it.  Now, it's possible that the Masked Reviewer is wrong on this, but that would be the first time the Masked Reviewer was wrong, so why not bet on the winning team?  Here's how you know he wasn't heavily involved: Quentin Tarantino doesn't appear in the film.  It would've been cool if he did, maybe sword fighting Uma Thurman in the background...but it didn't happen.  So, if you're expecting to see any Quentin Tarantino influence, you'll be disappointed.  But, if you want to see the kind of movie that heavily influenced Quentin Tarantino, Hero will fit the bill nicely!

At its core, Hero is a traditional Chinese film.  It follows all of the conventions of the Chinese epic.  It wouldn't be fair to characterize this as a martial arts movie; there are martial arts and the fighting is central to the story, but the story is the focus of the movie, not the action.  The plot is traditional and has been told before, as it revolves around the time when warlords ruled separate territories and the unification of China.  The Emperor and the Assassin is another film that deals with the same subject, and if you like Hero, you should check that film out as well (and vice versa).

Even though the characters and plot are what drive Hero, the film has quite a bit more going for it.  The fight scenes do feature some spectacular moments, even though much of the fighting is stylized and entirely dependent on wirework.  It's well choreographed and interesting, although it will remind you of...well...you know.  Don't make the Masked Reviewer say it.  All right, all right...Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  Or was it Crouching Dragon Hidden Tiger?  Either way, the fighting may seem similar (as may the way the story unfolds).

The visuals are often spoken of, though the Masked Reviewer thinks they've been highly overrated.  The location selection is unparalleled.  The director has a collection of locales that have never been seen before (outside of a video game).  There are interesting shots (like looking up from underwater or following an arrow in flight) that are magnificent.  The settings chosen feature some of the most beautiful landscapes you've ever seen.  However, the cinematography isn't good.  The colors aren't nearly as rich as they could be, and the picture quality in particular is very grainy.  It's a shame; if the camerawork was better, if the picture quality was better, this could have been one of the most visually impressive movies ever made.  Even though it's too grainy, it's still nice to look at.

The director did make good use of special effects, especially during battle scenes where it looks like people are being shot at by arrows.  But hey, it was shot in China, so maybe they actually did shoot arrows at the actors.  They have much more liberal regulations there.  That's how they get the money shots.

The Masked Reviewer should point out the two most important things about any foreign film: this film does have subtitles, and there is no nudity.  You can see 3/4ths of Jet Li's buttocks, but who hasn't seen Jet Li's buttocks?  Ken Burns is doing a documentary for PBS this fall called "Jet Li's Buttocks".  Check your local listings.

If you like flashbacks, Hero will keep you satisfied.  This movie has flashbacks within a flashback.  Actually, there are a few little twists and turns that the Masked Reviewer doesn't want to give away, but suffice it to say that they managed to squeeze the maximum emotional impact out of a few scenes by reliving them over and over again in different flashbacks.

Fans of long flowing robes that flutter in the breeze will have a grand old time in this movie.  You'll see more billowing garments here than at the Dom DeLuise look-alike convention.

The point of the movie may be a bit confusing to some people.  It deals with war and the good of the many versus the good of the few.  That's always an interesting topic, but the conclusion the film reaches may make you wonder.

Since this is Chinese moviemaking, don't expect that it'll be a laugh riot.  Chinese cinema can often feature some moments that will undoubtedly harsh your mellow.  But overall, the film is thought provoking and moving.


Expectation from the Title: A documentary film about the history of the submarine sandwich.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Everyone looks good in their long flowing robes.

The Pros: Nice visuals, solid story, stylized fighting, thought provoking.

The Cons: Picture quality disappointing, many people will think it's a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon knock-off, no Quentin Tarantino.


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