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Worth A Look: 25.93%
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13 reviews, 138 user ratings

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Hero (2004)
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by David Cornelius

"Did I mention that I like it?"
5 stars

The simple fact of the matter is this: “Hero” is the best martial arts movie I have ever seen. And I’ve seen me a lot of martial arts movies, so this is no small compliment. Like the best entries in its genre, “Hero” is more than some generic action flick. This is brilliant cinema, a breathless combination of fight choreography and philosophical contemplation, served up on a canvas that overwhelms the senses with its sheer beauty.

Of course, it’s a shame to stick it with the obvious “Crouching Tiger” comparisons it’s bound to receive; despite the swordplay, the wire fu, and the art house credentials, these are two entirely separate works. Still, in a country where few Asian films make a splash in the mainstream, moviegoers who aren’t familiar with the wide range the genre presents may require a comparison after all. To them, I say simply that the gorgeous love story fantasy that is “Crouching Tiger” makes a wonderful introduction to the world of art house swordplay, while “Hero” is an improvement on it - a broad, glorious epic that transcends genre while working entirely within it. This film, directed and co-written by art houser Zhang Yimou (“Raise the Red Lantern,” “The Road Home”), combines the massive sweep of an oversized “cast of thousands” production with the gentle intimacy of a character study, all while dazzling us with cinematic tricks both big and small. In other words, this is one of those films that remind you why you love films in the first place.

It’s also easy to compare “Hero” to another famous import: “Rashomon.” Like Kurosawa’s classic, the story here gets told and retold, varying on the teller. But while the older film deals with notions on perspective, “Hero” deals entirely with matters of truth and fiction, namely, the restructuring of a story by two separate tellers, one of whom catches on to the other’s lies.

The plot finds us in ancient China, back when the nation was separated into several warring lands. Into the palace of the King of Qin (Chen Dao Ming) comes a man known only in Eastwoodian terms as Nameless (Jet Li, in a performance so sharp that it singlehandedly makes up for every bad American flick he’s ever made), who claims to have killed the land’s three deadliest assassins. The King asks him to tell his story, which he quickly learns may not entirely be accurate. Being a wise man, the King then offers his own interpretation of Nameless’ adventures.

This refolding of the plot offers us not only a chance to deduce the truth (the script plays like a cracking mystery), but it also allows Yimou to tinker with the visuals. Every tale gets its own unique color scheme, the screen popping with bright greens, deep reds, eerie whites. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle, costume designer Emi Wada, and art designer Huo Tingxiao deserve extra credit for helping Yimou transform an elegant swordplay epic into an explosion of cinematic wonder. If ever a movie was meant to express everything film has to offer visually, “Hero” is it.

Of course, the killer fight sequences don’t hurt much, either. The connection between effective fight choreography and dance has been made for ages, but it’s worth bringing up again here. To see how effortless the fight scenes play is to see how much work goes into a great action film. This is a ballet, and the dance of swords on display here is a thing of sheer beauty.

The trick to making this all click lies in the most overlooked aspect of any martial arts movie, namely, the cast. Li and Dao Ming provide excellent interplay, two men who are desperate to read the other without revealing their own secrets in the process; their scenes together make you lean forward and pay extra attention. Meanwhile, Yimou stacks his supporting cast with some of China’s best, including Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen, and Tony Leung, all of whom bring strong characters into the mix. Underneath all the visual flash and storytelling zing, there’s the story’s true base: solid characters whose real emotions enhance every sequence. With a lesser cast, this movie may have fallen apart; with these names in the credits, the film only grows stronger.

So with a brilliant visual style, a whipsmart screenplay, expert direction, and finely tuned acting, is there anything else that “Hero” could possibly offer? As a fatter of fact, yes. Rare is the action film that leaves you thinking, but here is a work that dares to examine grand notions of laying down your life for a greater cause - or daring to take a life for that same cause. Can such a thing as death lead to a greater good? Are the final scenes propagandistic in its ideals about the origins of China as one nation? There are no clear answers, only questions.

Yimou paints with broad strokes and leaves us debating every minor detail. His “Hero” is more than just a martial arts movie, more than just an epic, more than just an exercise in cinema. It is, to use a word that’s thrown around too much these days, a masterpiece. This is grand, glorious filmmaking, the kind that never gets tired, the kind that only grows with each passing viewing.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7701&reviewer=392
originally posted: 12/02/04 01:50:10
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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
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
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  27-Aug-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 30-Nov-2004



Directed by
  Zhang Yimou

Written by
  Li Feng
  Bin Wang
  Zhang Yimou

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

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