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Overall Rating
4.04

Awesome51.39%
Worth A Look: 25.93%
Just Average: 8.8%
Pretty Crappy: 3.24%
Sucks: 10.65%

13 reviews, 138 user ratings


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Hero (2004)
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by Luke Pyzik

"Hooray for Imperialism!"
4 stars

The plot of “Hero” revolves around a warrior called Nameless (Jet Li) and three assassins named Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Sky (Donnie Yen). The movie contains all the flights of fancy you would expect from a story inhabited by characters with such names, and though there are no Crouching Tigers or Hidden Dragons, it also manages to resonate as a moving drama – albeit one with a staunchly imperialist message.

After all, “Hero” has been touted as the most expensive film in China’s history, and certainly no movie attains that status without offering up thematic elements approved by China’s communist government. Miramax, the film’s American distributor, had kept the film on the shelf for almost two years, apparently because of fears that American audiences wouldn’t “get it.” But based on its position on top of the box office for two weeks in a row, perhaps Miramax underestimated America’s understanding and appreciation of imperialism. The movie celebrates the triumph of the state over the individual and argues that the only way to attain peace is for one state to destroy all others. But to the film’s credit, it is not exactly propaganda. It does not shy away from the extreme sacrifice of achieving such a lofty goal and even concedes the inherent hypocrisy in such a policy – the movie opens with text stating, “the king’s plans to end war were soaked in the blood of his enemies.”

Political overtones aside, the movie is as visually pleasing as any you’re likely to see. It tells its story through jig saw flashbacks where two narrators, Nameless and the king, recount events that will determine both of their fates. Nameless is a great warrior in the king’s service who has returned home to explain how he managed to kill three assassins that have caused the king trouble for many years. The king is skeptical and eventually recounts what he believes to be the truth. As different layers of the story are revealed, we get to know Nameless and the three assassins. We become privy to their loyalties and their rivalries, but most importantly, we get to see them beat the daylights out of each other in a series of beautifully choreographed martial arts sequences.

The action scenes are as much about the venue as they are about who is actually involved in the conflict. The fights take place in locations like a rainy chess house, a golden forest, and on top of a crystal pond. The places are alive with color and movement - they move the story forward and comment on the characters as much as any action or dialogue. In one particularly stunning scene, Broken Sword makes a fateful decision during a fight in the king’s palace as huge green silk curtains fall from the ceiling. It is a gorgeous image and the emotional turning point of the film.

Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, whose work on “In the Mood for Love” may be the most perfect work of cinema photography I’ve ever seen until I walked in to “Hero,” has every scene exploding with color and beauty. There are shots in this movie that belong on museum walls. Director Yimou Zhang has crafted a movie even more “art-house” than “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and it will be interesting to see how American Jet Li fans will respond to a movie that does not cater to Western sensibilities. Li has been subject to star in a series of bad Hollywood vehicles since he was first introduced to Americans as the villain in “Lethal Weapon 3.” In “Hero,” he proves his worth when surrounded by talented filmmakers, and it is a wonder why one of this biggest fans, Quentin Tarantino. couldn’t find room for him in his “Kill Bill” saga.

The performances by Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Donnie Yen as the three assassins are carried out expertly, and I am grateful Miramax allowed the film to be released subtitled. We are reminded once again why no foreign film distributed in America should be subject to the dubbing process. It is not only crucial to hear the actors’ original voices - it is essential. Dubbing is almost never done successfully, forcing poor translation in service of fitting dialogue to lip movement and causing distraction through poor voice acting. Voice inflection is such a vital part of any performer’s work that to take it away is to compromise the integrity of the acting.

“Hero” is an epic re-imagining of Chinese history. The film has all the excitement of a whimsical fairy tail and all the dramatic weight of a classic tragedy. But when the credits role, it is hard to put the politics of the film aside. The ultimate message tells us that imperialistic ideology is the “heroic” way to achieve peace, and in our current situation I’m not so sure it is the message we need to hear. Maybe it is Flying Snow who is actually the “hero” the title should be referring to.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7701&reviewer=381
originally posted: 09/09/04 09:57:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell a good movie 4 stars
2/19/12 posttoastee One great film! If you did not like it-watch it again. 5 stars
3/22/10 Angelene It's a very interesting movie. I didn't understand it at the start. But later did 4 stars
8/04/09 Steve Hock Great use of color and action! Storm! Storm! Storm! 5 stars
6/19/09 Brad Barrett Awful! I really don't understand what people like about this movie. 1 stars
5/18/08 PAUL SHORTT A SILLY AND BLOATED FABLE THAT TAKES ITSELF TOO SERIOUSLY 1 stars
3/14/08 Alex Zhu I thought it was just fighting. i cried a bit when i understood it 5 stars
4/20/07 fools♫gold See it, you prick. And then see it again if you don't like it. And then again! 5 stars
1/10/07 Jake Cool Cinematography and fight scenes 5 stars
5/08/06 Carolyn Rathburn It was ok, some nice fighting sequences, but not one I would run out and buy 3 stars
4/01/06 Peter De La Rosa Jet finally in a good movie after the Crappy Pne and Cradle to the grave. 4 stars
3/03/06 Ronin yup visually impressive, the story isn't too great though. 4 stars
10/15/05 Quigley music is awesome, fights are awesome, yimou is awesome! this is one heckuva visual blast. 5 stars
10/10/05 Wisamane Booooooooring!!! WAY TO OVERRATED! THIS IS A PIECE OF SHIT MOVIE, THE PLOT IS IDIOTIC!!!!! 1 stars
9/01/05 Tom Burns Awesome fight scenes! 5 stars
8/31/05 ES Unwatchable, set your brains to stun or turn it off 1 stars
8/08/05 jada awesome use of music & visuals to tell story, beautiful film 5 stars
7/22/05 Bad Critic After watching a few minutes, I knew it would suck! 1 stars
7/20/05 Sir Dude Hollywood almost screwed this movie up, bad. Hollywood sucks.Thank you, Quentin Tarantino! 5 stars
7/11/05 Brian Feiler One of the most beautiful movies ever made. Great music and good story. 5 stars
7/08/05 Moctezuma Damn, these Jap films are seriously overrated 1 stars
7/03/05 ALDO visually impressive film....but the story is weak as hell 3 stars
6/23/05 sally angwin All I can say is maggie cheung you are hot hot hot baby 5 stars
6/21/05 Carolyn Rathburn I am always amazed at how they fly like gravity didn't exist 4 stars
6/12/05 Charlene Javier Simply brilliant. 5 stars
6/11/05 Krisan Graves best part is all the pretty colors..... 3 stars
5/23/05 Hllop An okay martial-arts flick with some cool scenes and narrative structure 3 stars
4/28/05 Naka A wonderful, beautifully shot, hyperintelligent piece of cinema genius. 5 stars
4/23/05 Quigley an awesome movie that doesn't copy LOTR's battles and is a gorgeous, colorful movie. see it 4 stars
4/12/05 Indrid Cold If this was the only movie like this, it would be a stunning masterpiece. But it ain't. 4 stars
3/12/05 Fabri Not my type. BORING STUFF 1 stars
2/09/05 Dan Wtf was this? 1 stars
1/21/05 Tjalda L. Schiel Very fine, story, acting, cinematography and everything else. 5 stars
1/12/05 jada spectacular, pure art, story wise & visually 5 stars
1/08/05 keithers.. Interesting story telling...and plot... 4 stars
1/03/05 t-1000 bullshit; bruce lee would be rolling with laughter in his grave! 1 stars
12/28/04 Mrwill to zel, because you are stupid!!! you don't anything about martial art, so just shut up 5 stars
12/25/04 Zel WTF? That was awful... Why can they fly? Boring movie!!! 2 stars
12/23/04 Natalie Stonecipher Actually, Nikolai, all lands have their version of rednecks. Some're probably in this film! 3 stars
12/23/04 Nikolai Excellent and soulful. Not for rednecks and cultureless cretins 5 stars
12/22/04 Hilary Adamson Rich cinematography; pretty boring story or lack thereof. 3 stars
12/10/04 Al Guy Visually intriguing, but not what I expected. 4 stars
12/03/04 tatum Often lovely, but I had Crouching Tiger on the brain the entire time 4 stars
12/03/04 Graham Disappointing on the human-drama front. No CTHD. 3 stars
11/24/04 Maalstrom great visual style 5 stars
11/21/04 Alan Liddle Fantastic cinemaphotography! Stirring. 4 stars
11/09/04 Alaric L Visually stunning, but the movie overall was imbalance 4 stars
10/27/04 The Gaffer ONe of the most interesting styles of story telling 4 stars
10/23/04 Nikolai Excellent and soulful. Not for rednecks and cultureless cretins 5 stars
10/20/04 Vinod Absolutely breathtaking visuals and a good storyline. beautiful music touching ur emotions. 5 stars
10/18/04 Leong Sorry, hate the movie 1 stars
10/15/04 Pete One of the worst movie I've ever seen 1 stars
10/06/04 J Burrows Very disappointing, empty, pompous eye-candy 1 stars
10/04/04 Asian girl Artful, puzzling and enchanting. 5 stars
10/01/04 someone beautiful...but agree with the fascist fairy tale comment..total bs 4 stars
9/21/04 none terriblly stupid martial arts scenes (way too much flying), but otherwise awesome 4 stars
9/21/04 Al Guy Beautiful, but not satisfying. See it for the artwork. 4 stars
9/20/04 Some Person It was ok, but I hate the crouching tiger hidden dragon effects...somewhat disappointed... 3 stars
9/16/04 Kyle Wellcome Great Cinematography.. 4 stars
9/15/04 Kristina beautiful but boring story 4 stars
9/14/04 jeff awsome movie. beautiful cinematography. more like a martial arts show. 5 stars
9/12/04 James ewwwww~ 1 stars
9/11/04 gromm Wonderful movie, and peek at eastern sensibilities. The colours have meaning, go look it up 5 stars
9/10/04 Munchie8 I expected Jet Li and some action... not a love story... disappointed 3 stars
9/09/04 Sarcastro Satan seduces. If this movie were about Stalin, would we be as impressed? Fascist fairytale 1 stars
9/09/04 Sophos This movie Rocks! 5 stars
9/09/04 Nessus Visually marvelous, but it seems like the "hero" falls for bad-guy logic 4 stars
9/07/04 Naka Thrilling, undercurrent of genius beneath the action. Glorious filmmaking. 5 stars
9/07/04 Aaron Smith Exquisite film, breathtaking scenery, astounding choreography. 4 stars
9/07/04 Millard It was engrossing, taking martial arts elements a step further, visually stunning 5 stars
9/06/04 ajay I liked 'crouching tiger...' better. 3 stars
9/06/04 kelly set design, directing, acting, script..... brilliant 5 stars
9/05/04 DM Nice visuals. Not much else. 4 stars
9/03/04 psycho dwarf A classic in a Barry Lyndon sort of way. 5 stars
9/01/04 Alberich Whoa!..i've GOT to get the import DVD!! 5 stars
9/01/04 Naka Thrilling, captivating, ande one of the most beautifully-shot films I've ever seen. 5 stars
9/01/04 michaelb14 a little slow at times, but still awesome 5 stars
8/31/04 jcjs wonderful, clever, beautiful, great action, entertaining to the max 5 stars
8/31/04 Tuan The reviewer is right in that the movie is awesome, but "13th century?" "to kill Qin?" WTF? 5 stars
8/31/04 Quentin Tarantino I, like, wanted everyone to enjoy this. I'm, you know, glad they did. 5 stars
8/31/04 Daniel Beautiful but slightly boring and overhyped 3 stars
8/31/04 dredphul a gorgeous, beautiful picture 5 stars
8/30/04 Dara Crass Totally Cool 5 stars
8/30/04 A F Amazing film with great point. People like the previous one need to READ THE SUBTITLES. 5 stars
8/30/04 Frank Lynch Pretty pictures, but Quin was a murderous tyrant on par with Hitler 1 stars
8/30/04 othree great genre, +story character color elemental action scenic 4 stars
8/30/04 C Excellent! I can't believe they waited two years to release it. 5 stars
8/29/04 King Richard Two words, Party propaganda. 1 stars
8/29/04 jordone Awesome A+ 5 stars
8/28/04 Alex It has excellent action scenes and it is a beautiful looking movie. Definitely great. 5 stars
8/28/04 Heather More proof that some of the best movies aren't made in Hollywood 5 stars
8/28/04 Titus A little more editing, a little less lingering in Act III and this'd be 5 stars 4 stars
8/28/04 JL exquisite cinematography. KungFu battle btw JetLi and DonnieYen is superb! Thumbs up. 5 stars
8/27/04 movie lover Complete CRAP. Shut up you pompas asses who think this film is worth a fart . 1 stars
8/27/04 KingNeutron Beautiful, operatic, flowing, thought-provoking. 4 stars
8/27/04 shannon rich in chinese history outstanding visuals 5 stars
8/27/04 malcolm maybe the best martial arts film ever. the kung fu "Godfather." 5 stars
8/25/04 Anthony G great fight scenes+ good plot=good movie 5 stars
8/16/04 Herolder One of the best HK movies in recent years 5 stars
8/16/04 E Kallio Definitely excellent and ambiguous, mysterious 5 stars
8/11/04 Mike Mcgilvray Beautiful cinematography, great story, easily Jet Li's best ever. A+ 5 stars
8/09/04 kyotomatt Rashomon, but crappy. Try harder next time. 1 stars
7/31/04 sean One of the most gorgeous looking films I have ever seen with a couple of terrific messages 5 stars
7/24/04 Julie Wenders This is a visual feast! 5 stars
7/19/04 allan morph is grea i love the story and the actors hey realyy catch my attention, the swordplay 5 stars
7/17/04 legend A visually stunning film with great action. 5 stars
6/11/04 Raymond Lee a great movie 5 stars
5/31/04 Charlene Javier Excellent! 5 stars
5/30/04 Sun Yat Sen Triumph of the Rashomon. Springtime for Qin Shihuang. Purty propagada. 1 stars
4/28/04 Rudy THE BEST ACTION MOVIE 5 stars
3/15/04 Madeline Gorgeous cinematography & colour schemes tho the morals might be hard to grasp for some! 5 stars
2/20/04 Jeremias Finally a m.arts film with a story. I even reconized some Sun Tzu and Confusius i/t plot 5 stars
12/11/03 Jonathan I loved Crouching Tiger and I would have to say that this movie is ten times better, 5 stars
11/26/03 Bojan Absolutly best movie of the year 5 stars
11/20/03 rony zhang ziyi and maggie cheung ohh yeah!!! kind of weird plot though.^_^ 5 stars
11/03/03 anna crappy sentimental and cheap!! 1 stars
10/08/03 Ola Boring beyond belief - pompous fool of a movie 1 stars
10/05/03 ida it is great!!!!!!! & cool! 5 stars
10/05/03 Anders Hansson Beautiful fascism propaganda with no emotional depth at all. Truly ridiculous. 1 stars
10/01/03 J.C. Absolutely beautiful, probably my favourite movie ever 5 stars
9/30/03 Meryl Einstien yeeeeeaaaahhhhhhh, just one thing, why the hell didnt Jet Li just play Li Mu Bai? 4 stars
9/15/03 shane brilliant editing ! one of the year's best 4 stars
9/03/03 ray sooo nice!!! 5 stars
8/24/03 Zaharin Hamid aka The Movie Samseng Good plot but weird. Sword fighting scenes are breath-taking. 3 stars
8/13/03 bob mckenzie surprising its not nominated for foreign film, has a leg up on Infernal Affairs 5 stars
8/07/03 Ingo Breathtaking. 5 stars
8/05/03 Simon Beautiful film. 5 stars
7/27/03 Greg Much better than Crouching Tiger! How Swift Thy Sword! 5 stars
7/13/03 C Tseng Beautiful cinematography propping up historically inaccurate fascist credo 3 stars
7/06/03 Gudrun Hamdy Very, very nice movie. 5 stars
7/04/03 Zargo looking forward to seeing it the way Zhang Yimou intended 5 stars
6/21/03 jim Walls One of the most beautiful looking films Ive ever seen-and wonderful action. 5 stars
6/20/03 Randy If you liked Crouching Tiger, you'll love this. 5 stars
6/15/03 nancix I love"Broken Sword"!! He is a "True Hero" and "Feminist"!! 5 stars
5/30/03 Nameful Beautiful! 5 stars
5/26/03 Jessica great film 5 stars
5/25/03 John Rander plot from Rashomon, message from Triumph of the Will 1 stars
5/22/03 jim Walls What a gorgeous film.This is one of the finest action films-eastern or western,ive ever see 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  27-Aug-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 30-Nov-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  04-Nov-2004


Directed by
  Zhang Yimou

Written by
  Li Feng
  Bin Wang
  Zhang Yimou

Cast
  Jet Li
  Tony Leung Chiu Wai
  Maggie Cheung
  Zhang Ziyi
  Donnie Yen
  Daoming Chen



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