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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Zhang Yimou's martial-arts fable was worth the wait."
5 stars

Zhang Yimou's 'Hero' shares with 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' an artist's-eye view of essentially pulpy material.

The basic plot -- a nameless warrior (Jet Li) favors a king with accounts of his prowess in battle -- could have been (and probably has been) a springboard for any number of fast, cheesy martial-arts flicks emphasizing ass-kicking over substance. But Yimou, like Ang Lee before him, attends to the story's deeper themes and draws out its rich potential as both cinema and poetry.

"Presented" in its Miramax release by Quentin Tarantino, who knows eye-popping Asian filmmaking when he sees it, Hero is the kind of movie in which the nameless protagonist, preparing to cross his sword with the spear of the legendary Sky (Donnie Yen), drops a few yen into an old koto master's basket and asks him to play some more music. In another film, the point would be the warrior's absolute cool in the face of combat. Here, it's just part of the overall tapestry of beauty. What keeps Hero from lapsing into artsy solemnity is that the hushed and meditative views of nature are organic to the virtuoso action scenes.

The aforementioned Sky is one of three adversaries who have been threatening the life of the king (Chen Daoming) for a decade; the others are the calligrapher/assassin couple Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). The warrior has apparently vanquished them, earning the right to sit within twenty paces of the rather paranoid king. The story's structure is odd by modern standards -- all the action unfolds in flashbacks -- yet will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in Eastern literature, where men often sit around and tell stories. Hero is indebted on some level to Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece Rashomon, which told the same story from four different viewpoints. The king, who is perhaps wise to be paranoid, suspects that there's more to the story than the warrior lets on.

Hero is better experienced than discussed -- and better seen two or more times. I saw it on an import DVD a month or so before its American release, and it's a more ravishing and visceral movie the second time around, when you know the film's tangle of loyalties and plots. Christopher Doyle's sumptuous photography joins forces with the soothing music by Tan Dun (who also scored Crouching Tiger) to create a landscape of triumph and tragedy. In this heightened atmosphere, it's perfectly acceptable when the warrior and Broken Sword skim lightly across a lake, sinking their swords into the water to keep themselves aloft, or when Flying Snow faces off against Broken Sword's protegé Moon (Zhang Ziyi) in a forest dominated by yellow leaves that become weapons and, later, indicators of defeat. Hero is a classic tall tale, a fable told around the fire.

Jet Li certainly has presence as a martial-arts master, but when the camera moves in for a close-up, not a lot is going on; his impassive face looks like nothing so much as Michael Myers' mask in Halloween, and he has a rather unfortunate speaking voice. He has been cast as the film's stoic death-dealer, though, and most of the heavy-duty emoting is placed in the able hands of the actors Yimou has surrounded Li with. Cheung and Leung make fine godlike starcrossed lovers, and Zhang Ziyi, as in Crouching Tiger, is a vivid hellcat driven more by passion than by strategy. What, if anything, does the warrior feel about his mission? We're given a backstory, which feels a bit rote, as if required by the classical plot.

'Hero,' an eminently Chinese story, concerns itself more with mastery and honor than with the unpredictable urges of a few fallible humans. It deals most often in wordless poetry -- lovers joined forever by steel; the mood-setting color scheme of each version of the tale -- and lets us fill in the rest.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7701&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/10/07 09:12:29
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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

7/23/14 ciuuimjs USA 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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