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Overall Rating
4.04

Awesome51.39%
Worth A Look: 25.93%
Average: 8.8%
Pretty Bad: 3.24%
Total Crap: 10.65%

13 reviews, 138 user ratings


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Hero (2004)
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by Jason Whyte

"Striking and beautiful, and not to be confused with the Dustin Hoffman film"
5 stars

It's been a little bit over a year-and-a-half since I first saw Zhang Yimou's "Hero", the most expensive film made in Chinese history, by means of an imported DVD copy. I felt it was a great experience that was a bit slighted by the DVD format, feeling that its kinetic, visual storytelling would better be appreciated projected in a movie theater (preferably with a good projector and a good digital sound system). After the film had been nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar for 2002, I had been hoping that Miramax Films, who has had the rights to the film since early 2003, would release it stateside. (A similar fate fell upon "Shaolin Soccer", which was just released on DVD.)

Miramax, fearing the film's themes and history of Chinese culture might be lost on an American audience, shelved the film and wanted to release it cut to shreds and dubbed into Engish. In steps Quentin Tarantino's success with his "Kill Bill" films, and arranges to have the film released untouched and in Mandarin as long as "Quentin Tarantino Presents..." is monikered on the advertising campaign. (Thankfully, it isn't mentioned in the actual film, although there are some changes with the titles and credits, which I don't mind.)

Finally, the wait was worth it. The vastness of the theater screen is required to experience Yimou's "Hero", but he's not the only auteur here. Christopher Doyle, who is a huge force in Asian cinema and also photographed both Philip Noyce's "Return to directing" films in 2002 ("The Quiet American" and "Rabbit-Proof Fence", both solid works), has a strong hand in creating one of the most visually striking films I've ever seen.

The story takes place in feudal China around the 13th century, which at that point is divided up into seven territories. There is a warrior who is nameless and is referred to as Nameless (Jet Li) who comes to the Kingdom of Qin (Chen Daoming) to tell the story of how he had slain three warriors, Long Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung) that had sworn to kill Qin. As Nameless narrates, we flash back to the stories of how each warrior fell, as well as the story of Fox (Zhang Ziyi) who is heavily connected to it all. Nameless is permitted inside Qin's kindom at 100 paces, and then 20 paces, and finally at 10 paces, and at that point Qin admits he has heard a different story than the one that Nameless has told.

The film's storyline is somewhat light, but what we get out of "Hero" is poetic storytelling on a transcendental level. The characters matter in this breathing, surreal world that is heavily mixed with fantasy, reality, myth and spectacle. It's a film you go and view once, get the storytelling aspect out of the way, then return once again to bask in the busy, visual world of it all.

Doyle's camera work here is unique and extraordinary. (Should you happen upon this film at a megaplex with multiple screens, seek out and wait for the screen that is the largest. Trust me on this one.) If eligible for an Oscar for this year, there's nary a film that can beat it, although some of my choices for the best films of 2004, including "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (Ellen Kuras), "Kill Bill Vol. 2" (Robert Richardson), "Distant" (Nuri Bilge Ceylan), and "Garden State" (Lawrence Sher) are also award worthy. Here, the film's use of color, lighting, balance of shadows and use of contrast speak volumes. One of the film's many stunning sequences has Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi fighting in a forest with ripe autum trees, and its finale, instead of blood, has the entire forest turning red. In another sequence, there is a fight where its characters float above water, bouncing up and down while their swords dip gently into the smooth, calm water. It's not just Doyle at hard work here; Yimou balances his direction with sharp editing of the action sequences and the use of sound is remarkable.

Jet Li's performance is very good, especially coming from a guy who is normally typecast these days in dumb American films where he kicks a few butts. We've normally seen him warble a few goofy english lines in "Romeo Must Die" or "Cradle 2 Tha Grave", but here he's a calm and focused performer, only fast and viscious when he needs to be. (Dare I say that Jackie Chan will try a role like this?) Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi are equally incredible (and both extremely beautiful), and Chen Daoming has wonderful presence as Qin.

I surely hope that with the stateside success of "Hero", Miramax will take better care of theatrical distribution and leave the changes alone like they have here. There is an audience for this kind of film, an audience here that truly wants to discover a kind of story that we don't normally see in a day and age of computer generated explosions and loud warfare.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7701&reviewer=350
originally posted: 08/31/04 17:39:21
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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

9/14/17 morris campbell a good movie 4 stars
2/20/12 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
8/05/09 Steve Hock Great use of color and action! Storm! Storm! Storm! 5 stars
6/20/09 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
4/21/07 fools♫gold See it, you prick. And then see it again if you don't like it. And then again! 5 stars
1/11/07 Jake Cool Cinematography and fight scenes 5 stars
5/09/06 Carolyn Rathburn It was ok, some nice fighting sequences, but not one I would run out and buy 3 stars
4/02/06 Peter De La Rosa Jet finally in a good movie after the Crappy Pne and Cradle to the grave. 4 stars
3/04/06 Ronin yup visually impressive, the story isn't too great though. 4 stars
10/16/05 Quigley music is awesome, fights are awesome, yimou is awesome! this is one heckuva visual blast. 5 stars
10/11/05 Wisamane Booooooooring!!! WAY TO OVERRATED! THIS IS A PIECE OF SHIT MOVIE, THE PLOT IS IDIOTIC!!!!! 1 stars
9/02/05 Tom Burns Awesome fight scenes! 5 stars
9/01/05 ES Unwatchable, set your brains to stun or turn it off 1 stars
8/09/05 jada awesome use of music & visuals to tell story, beautiful film 5 stars
7/23/05 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
7/09/05 Moctezuma Damn, these Jap films are seriously overrated 1 stars
7/04/05 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
6/22/05 Carolyn Rathburn I am always amazed at how they fly like gravity didn't exist 4 stars
6/13/05 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
4/29/05 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
4/13/05 Indrid Cold If this was the only movie like this, it would be a stunning masterpiece. But it ain't. 4 stars
3/13/05 Fabri Not my type. BORING STUFF 1 stars
2/10/05 Dan Wtf was this? 1 stars
1/22/05 Tjalda L. Schiel Very fine, story, acting, cinematography and everything else. 5 stars
1/13/05 jada spectacular, pure art, story wise & visually 5 stars
1/09/05 keithers.. Interesting story telling...and plot... 4 stars
1/04/05 t-1000 bullshit; bruce lee would be rolling with laughter in his grave! 1 stars
12/29/04 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
12/24/04 Natalie Stonecipher Actually, Nikolai, all lands have their version of rednecks. Some're probably in this film! 3 stars
12/24/04 Nikolai Excellent and soulful. Not for rednecks and cultureless cretins 5 stars
12/23/04 Hilary Adamson Rich cinematography; pretty boring story or lack thereof. 3 stars
12/11/04 Al Guy Visually intriguing, but not what I expected. 4 stars
12/04/04 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
10/28/04 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
10/07/04 J Burrows Very disappointing, empty, pompous eye-candy 1 stars
10/05/04 Asian girl Artful, puzzling and enchanting. 5 stars
10/02/04 someone beautiful...but agree with the fascist fairy tale comment..total bs 4 stars
9/22/04 none terriblly stupid martial arts scenes (way too much flying), but otherwise awesome 4 stars
9/22/04 Al Guy Beautiful, but not satisfying. See it for the artwork. 4 stars
9/21/04 Some Person It was ok, but I hate the crouching tiger hidden dragon effects...somewhat disappointed... 3 stars
9/17/04 Kyle Wellcome Great Cinematography.. 4 stars
9/16/04 Kristina beautiful but boring story 4 stars
9/14/04 jeff awsome movie. beautiful cinematography. more like a martial arts show. 5 stars
9/13/04 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
9/10/04 Sarcastro Satan seduces. If this movie were about Stalin, would we be as impressed? Fascist fairytale 1 stars
9/10/04 Sophos This movie Rocks! 5 stars
9/10/04 Nessus Visually marvelous, but it seems like the "hero" falls for bad-guy logic 4 stars
9/08/04 Naka Thrilling, undercurrent of genius beneath the action. Glorious filmmaking. 5 stars
9/08/04 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
9/07/04 ajay I liked 'crouching tiger...' better. 3 stars
9/06/04 kelly set design, directing, acting, script..... brilliant 5 stars
9/06/04 DM Nice visuals. Not much else. 4 stars
9/03/04 psycho dwarf A classic in a Barry Lyndon sort of way. 5 stars
9/02/04 Alberich Whoa!..i've GOT to get the import DVD!! 5 stars
9/02/04 Naka Thrilling, captivating, ande one of the most beautifully-shot films I've ever seen. 5 stars
9/02/04 michaelb14 a little slow at times, but still awesome 5 stars
9/01/04 jcjs wonderful, clever, beautiful, great action, entertaining to the max 5 stars
9/01/04 Tuan The reviewer is right in that the movie is awesome, but "13th century?" "to kill Qin?" WTF? 5 stars
9/01/04 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
8/31/04 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
8/30/04 King Richard Two words, Party propaganda. 1 stars
8/30/04 jordone Awesome A+ 5 stars
8/29/04 Alex It has excellent action scenes and it is a beautiful looking movie. Definitely great. 5 stars
8/29/04 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
8/28/04 movie lover Complete CRAP. Shut up you pompas asses who think this film is worth a fart . 1 stars
8/28/04 KingNeutron Beautiful, operatic, flowing, thought-provoking. 4 stars
8/28/04 shannon rich in chinese history outstanding visuals 5 stars
8/28/04 malcolm maybe the best martial arts film ever. the kung fu "Godfather." 5 stars
8/26/04 Anthony G great fight scenes+ good plot=good movie 5 stars
8/17/04 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
8/10/04 kyotomatt Rashomon, but crappy. Try harder next time. 1 stars
8/01/04 sean One of the most gorgeous looking films I have ever seen with a couple of terrific messages 5 stars
7/25/04 Julie Wenders This is a visual feast! 5 stars
7/20/04 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
6/12/04 Raymond Lee a great movie 5 stars
6/01/04 Charlene Javier Excellent! 5 stars
5/31/04 Sun Yat Sen Triumph of the Rashomon. Springtime for Qin Shihuang. Purty propagada. 1 stars
4/29/04 Rudy THE BEST ACTION MOVIE 5 stars
3/16/04 Madeline Gorgeous cinematography & colour schemes tho the morals might be hard to grasp for some! 5 stars
2/21/04 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
11/27/03 Bojan Absolutly best movie of the year 5 stars
11/21/03 rony zhang ziyi and maggie cheung ohh yeah!!! kind of weird plot though.^_^ 5 stars
11/04/03 anna crappy sentimental and cheap!! 1 stars
10/09/03 Ola Boring beyond belief - pompous fool of a movie 1 stars
10/06/03 ida it is great!!!!!!! & cool! 5 stars
10/06/03 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
8/06/03 Simon Beautiful film. 5 stars
7/27/03 Greg Much better than Crouching Tiger! How Swift Thy Sword! 5 stars
7/14/03 C Tseng Beautiful cinematography propping up historically inaccurate fascist credo 3 stars
7/07/03 Gudrun Hamdy Very, very nice movie. 5 stars
7/05/03 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
6/21/03 Randy If you liked Crouching Tiger, you'll love this. 5 stars
6/16/03 nancix I love"Broken Sword"!! He is a "True Hero" and "Feminist"!! 5 stars
5/30/03 Nameful Beautiful! 5 stars
5/27/03 Jessica great film 5 stars
5/26/03 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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