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Overall Rating

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 Mel Valentin

"Dramatically feeble, almost saved by the choreography and cinematography."
3 stars

For a hotly anticipated film, once hailed (or hyped) as the successor of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," at least here in the United States, Zhang Yimou's "Hero" fails to meet admittedly exaggerated expectations. Simply put, "Hero" fails to succeed on anything beyond an aesthetic level. "Hero" is, alas, mired in an incoherent, clichéd narrative (combined with an unpalatable political stance) that results in a hollow viewing experience.

Zhang Yimou, best known in North America for Raise the Red Lantern and Ju Dou and former cinematographer for Chen Kaige, director of Farewell, My Concubine and The Emperor and the Assassin, is a visual stylist without peer. His obsessive approach to visual composition and kinetic action is obvious in every frame. From mise-en-scene (the grouping or placement of objects within the frame), to color design (sequences are individually color coded red, blue, and white, with the emperor’s palace bathed in muted grays and blacks), to the elaborately choreographed fight scenes (on par with or occasionally surpassing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Here, Yimou is working with a first-class cinematographer, Christopher Doyle (Wong Kar Wai's frequent collaborator). One scene, featuring an archer attack on a small village (enhanced by CGI) is nothing short of breathtaking, even as it distances the audience from the effects of violence. In another choreographed scene, two women, allies turned enemies, dressed in flowing red robes and surrounded by trees shedding multi-colored leaves as fight to the death.

Let's discuss the narrative and dramatic structure. Apparently minimal time was spent developing the narrative, character relationships or backstories, often leaving. character action undermotivated. Structurally, the narrative works through a framing device, an extended audience between the central character, Nameless (Jet Li), a highly trained assassin, and the first emperor of China (Daoming Chen). The framing device helps to anchor the narrative as the protagonist and the emperor engage in storytelling via flashbacks. Yimou and his screenwriters attempt, but fail, to create a Rashomon-like effect (i.e., an exploration of the nature of "truth" and the epistemological problem inherent in unreliable narrators), with Nameless and the emperor recounting different, mutually exclusive, versions of the same story, a story centered on Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), sworn enemies of the emperor (and estranged lovers).

Unfortunately, dramatic tension is practically nonexistent for the first two acts (primarily due to the framing device and the flashback structure which tells us more than we'd like to know). The emperor, in turn, is presented as almost semi-divine in his ability to “read” the protagonist's hidden motivation and create a version of the story that mirrors reality. In earlier narration, Nameless describes events he obviously didn't witness firsthand. In addition, Nameless disappears from long sections of the film or simply witnesses unfolding events. He's either an absent protagonist or simply a passive one. In either case, audience identification will be at one step removed.

Worse still, after the emperor "corrects" Nameless, the protagonist recounts the same events a second time, apparently more "truthfully," but this new flashback contains an embedded flashback from another character's point-of-view. The embedded flashback is structural/dramatic impossibility, given the protagonist’s limited or nonexistent knowledge of (some of) the events narrated in the embedded flashback. For flashbacks to work on a narrative level, they're generally confined to what a character sees, hears, or otherwise experiences directly. Viewers are then likely to find themselves lost, rudderless, without direction or guidance in determining "ownership" of the embedded flashback. Instead of centering the narrative on the taciturn, thinly characterized Nameless, however, Yimou could have focused on the estranged lovers as primary characters.

Last, the final plot turn depends on a central character's undermotivated reversal. The explanation offered by Yimou and his screenwriters is woefully one-dimensional and unlikely to generate much (if any) sympathy from modern audiences, let alone a Western audience unaware of the complexities of Chinese history. In essence, the plot turns on a character recognizing the need for an autocratic, authoritarian, semi-mystical, semi-divine, paternalistic ruler to unite China, regardless of the cost in human suffering or lives (among other decrees, the first emperor ordered the forcible migration of his subjects to less hospitable areas, and dissension was brutally suppressed).

Centralized rule may have some benefits (the first Chinese emperor standardized weights, measures, and the Chinese language, and ordered the construction of the Great Wall), but the methods invoked, military force and conquest makes it impossible to identify with the emperor or the characters that sympathize with his goals. It should come as no surprise that Chinese Communist Party officials feted Yimou when Hero premiered in mainland China. Apparently, they saw themselves in Yimou's positive portrayal of China's first emperor. Audiences in North America aren’t likely to have a similar reaction (more likely, they'll just simply ignore Hero's political content).

After seeing "Hero," it's understandable why Miramax repeatedly postponed "Hero's" release in the United States. Overall, "Hero's" visual style and fight choreography almost, just almost, outweighs its dramatic shortcomings. "Hero" isn't a film I plan on revisiting anytime soon, except perhaps to study individual sequences for color, composition, or the elaborate fight scenes.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7701&reviewer=402
originally posted: 06/08/05 20:10:46
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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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