Worth A Look: 25.93%
Just Average: 8.8%
Pretty Crappy: 3.24%
13 reviews, 138 user ratings
by Chris Parry
It was inevitable after Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon cleaned up at the box office and awards podium - Hollywood was bound to get financially involved in the Asian film industry and try to create more of the same. And to be fair, all the ingredients for Crouching Tiger II are here - an arty director in Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern), a phenomenal cinematographer in Chris Doyle, and a cast that includes such names as Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Crouching Tiger's big discovery, Ziyi Zhang. So it has all the ingredients - but does it taste as good as the original? Quite honestly, no. At least not for a western audience.Jet Li is Nameless, an assassin sent out to kill three other assassins before they can take the life of his king. Nameless comes home to a hero's welcome after achieving his task and is permitted to sit within a hundred feet of the king as they share a drink and discuss his exploits. As he talks of killing each of the assassins, the king allows him to come twenty feet closer, then twenty more, until the two finally find themselves ten feet from each other. That's when things start going awry for Nameless, as the stories he's been telling in flashback (Rashomon style) begin to unravel.
"The most beautiful looking film I've ever seen... but..."
So who's zoomin' who? Well, really, that's what we're supposed to figure out. And like a bad whodunnit, we really have no chance of doing so because the twists aren't hinted at in any way until they're explained to us. And the fact that those twists have to be explained, rather than shown, should tell somebody in charge that this film is a snake that long ago consumed it's own lower half.
Beyond that, the film's central message (that individuals should abandon their personal ambition for the greater good) is one that western audiences are going to have a little trouble swallowing. In fact, one reviewer in Europe has already dubbed the film "beautifully filmed fascism", and I can see that point of view as valid. To go into it would be to give away far too much of the film, but suffice to say Hero takes such a long time to make it's point, that by the time the point is made you'll have had a long time to think about it.
The performances range from decent to not so decent. Li sounds unlike I've ever heard him before, a sort of dull, whiny drone for most of the film, and the abundance of romance and tears and professed love between the other characters tends to go pretty far over the top, especially as the action scenes tend to contrast them by coming across as cartoonish. A stand-out performance from Daoming Chen, as King Qin, is worthy of note, as what tension there is in the film almost entirely comes from his convincing turn as the misunderstood leader of his province.
The action scenes are great, as they are in any (non Joel Silver-produced) film that Jet Li appears in. Just as in Crouching Tiger, the wirework does tend to go over the top, leaving characters basically floating in slow motion when they should be zipping and leaping, and at times when you should be watching the action the director cuts away to reaction shots that seem to be disguising choreography problems. For the most part you don't care, as the early rematch between Li and Yen is riveting stuff and Maggie Cheung is generally electrifying.
And is there any woman in the world today more attractive than Zhang Ziyi? The Pantene spokesmodel can handle herself with a sword too, which is always handy when you're out on a date and faced with a long line at the Olive Garden.
Acting, script and direction aside, there's one thing about Hero that makes it deserving of Oscars, and that is cinematography. If you'e seen a beautifully filmed movie from Asia in the last few years, there's a great chance the Australian madman Chris Doyle had something to do with it. Doyle's a total freak, but he's also a genius and every frame of this picture is explicit as a result of his undeniable skill. To think he's got another two decades plus in the business has to make you wonder what he'll be capable of with another twenty years under his belt, because right now he's got to be the best in the business by a wide margin. He's the Tiger Woods of the lens set and Hero proves it.
So how does it all wrap up in the end? Well, this is most definitely a film that is worth seeing on a big screen with great sound. The film is a technical marvel, but it does have deficiencies that will wear heavily on those raised in the west. There are many slow periods that add spiritual mood to proceedings, most of which would be far easier for an eastern audience to dig than Vinny from Brooklyn who likes Van Damme flicks and thinks Hooters is an upmarket restaurant. And Miramax knows this.
It's been widely touted that Miramax have told Zhang Yimou to cut a half hour off his 2 hour original cut, and you'd have to think that a large chunk of what will be cut will be the non-action sequences. I don't know if that'll turn out to be a wise move or a heinous injustice, but truth be told there is a little room for Yimou to make cuts without losing too much storyline.
It just seems a shame though, and it seems an even bigger shame to keep this film sitting on a shelf when the rest of the world has already seen it, just so it can be fresh in mind for 2004's Oscar ceremony.If you're into original cuts, you can find region 0 copies of the Asian release of Hero for sale on the internet easily enough. I'll admit it, that's where I got my hands on the flick, but this really is a film that I'm disappointed I didn't see first on a huge screen. I'll be standing in line for a ticket when it opens in November, but that couldn't possibly beat the thrill of seeing it for the first time on a big ass screen with kick ass stereo sound and an audience that's into it. Jet Li fans will love it. Crouching Tiger fans will love it. Van Damme fans... well, I'm sure there'll be a new Martin Lawrence comedy they can rent.
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originally posted: 05/16/03 05:23:08
|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.