Projections - Movie Reviews

Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Jiang Wen, Donnie Yen, Daoming Chen

A visually arresting tale of an Emperor and his assassins is the tragic martial arts opus Hero, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes and Oscars. This Mandarin-language film with English subtitles from acclaimed director Zhang Yimou concerns feuding kingdoms of China in the 3 rd Century B. C. It’s finally getting a North American release and deserves to be viewed on the big screen despite many DVDs already from Hong Kong suppliers.

Yimou, known for his stellar epic art house pictures like Raise The Red Lantern, has assembled a wonderful cast, including Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey), Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Ziyi Zhang (Rush Hour 2). Highly budgeted for a Chinese movie, Hero feels cutting-edge in how it exquisitely integrates action with characters and story, told primarily in flashback.

Jet Li (Cradle 2 The Grave) actually gets lead billing, and he embraces the role from Zhang with a bold intensity lifting his work far above what Hollywood has offered him up to this point. Maybe because Hero is positioned as a late summer release, Li’s presence is key to initial box-office returns. His nameless swordsman isn’t allowed to steal the limelight as there is much crossover potential here like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, even if Zhang doesn’t achieve quite the same dramatic impact as Ang Lee did with actors like Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Ziyi Zhang.

The story has Nameless in an encounter with an ambitious king (Daoming Chen) of the Quin Dynasty who strives to be an emperor of an unified nation. The swordsman tells the ruler how he vanquished three Zhao assassins to thwart Him Majesty’s plan standing ten paces form him. Those who don’t know Zhang Yimou will be treated to some scenes resembling Crouching Tiger as the explanations deepen between the king and the mysterious man as the script reminds one of the Kurosawa classic, Rashomon.

Many lavish, stylized set pieces unfold with vivid cinematography by Christopher Doyle accompanied by stellar sound design and editing. For some the branching narrative may not be that gripping, but the relationships take hold, especially Leung’s Broken Sword and Cheung’s Flying Snow. The first battle that takes place between Li and Yen’s Sky shows the magic of fluid wirework within nature as one feels the droplets pounding on the spear and sword. A strength of spirit is conveyed throughout, whether in a musical interlude or in a calligraphy school where a where a scroll is being made as a torrent of imperial arrows descent on instructor and pupils.

Zhang films it all with the precision of a maestro, library walls collapse, the piercing visage of a Mother Nature-like Flying Snow against YiYi’s lissome lowly servant, as color change sparkling with new shadings of truth in nature, clothes and mood. The elegant, dour score speaks highly of what Broken Sword must endure on the way to an ending that gracefully acknowledges a land worth dying for.


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