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