Hero (2004)

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 06/16/05 01:43:03

4 stars (Worth A Look)

Every once in a while, being a film critic really pays off! As when you witness those spell-bindingly beautiful moments transpire on the screen which make you want to jump with the joy and enthusiasm of a ten year old!! Those moments when you wish you could tear through the screen and hope that the director is on the other side just so that you can give him a tight hug and probably cry on his shoulders for letting you realize what beauty truly is!!! Zhang Yimou’s ‘Hero’ builds such emotions and more!!!! ‘Hero’ is what poetry would look like if it could be seen than read, and perhaps an idea of what heaven might be like!!!!!

Why heaven? Well, for starters, Yimou uses colours that we have all seen before(and even on the screen) yet they seem so vibrant, luminescent and unadulterated that we almost feel like we’ve been living in a black-and-white world all along and have only now been upgraded to colour! And he doesn’t use the colours as a gimmick, they become his tools in telling a Rashomon-like story about a nameless warrior(Jet Li) and his heroic clashes to eliminate three assassins meaning to kill the king of Qin(Daoming Chen), a ruthless ruler in pre-unified China. The three assassins are Sky(Donnie Yen), Flying Snow(Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword(Tony Leung)- each gifted with exceptional skills. Every confrontation is comprehensively shown in an intervallic layout, beginning with the defeat of Sky while a blind musician plays a harp! Drops of water are pierced through as the Nameless suspends himself in air and leaps across the room. The whole screen seems to be soaked in water during this interlude. The Nameless takes Sky’s sword as a testament of his triumph, and does the same with his conquests over Flying Snow and Broken Sword. Received in a hero’s welcome, the Nameless is given an opportunity to recount his tales of valour to the king in person. This gives Yimou a chance to show his skills once again as he overwhelms us with an image of the Nameless walking past an assembly of what seems like a million armed men! With every tale the Nameless is allowed a step closer to the king who hasn’t had anybody this close owing to the threat on his life. However, the king starts to suspect that the Nameless might be an assassin himself and his stories merely a ploy to get closer. The king provides what he believes might have actually transpired. And we get to see the same events being replayed with a different script. This is where Yimou’s use of colour tones assumes importance. Different versions are shot with different colours dominating the foreground and the background. Blue, red, yellow and green are all used effectively to evoke and represent the general mood of the particular episode. Finally the labyrinth unravels itself in a third version and as it does, the essence of the story rises up a like a glowing phoenix.

Although the story provides food for thought, ‘Hero’ is and will always be remembered for its visuals. Like an exhibition of different paintings belonging to the same collection, all the different scenes and images of ‘Hero’ create one exquisite motion picture. Form and technique marry to create a harmony of fluid story-telling. CGI meets live-action to create an array of arrows as Flying Snow and the Nameless fend it with their swordsmanship while Broken Sword continues with his calligraphy in the face of a thousand arrows raining around him. Infact, oriental metaphors abound in the ‘Hero’ such as the comparison of swordsmanship to calligraphy and the implementation of the yin-yang principle in telling the different accounts of the same incident. In another scene, Yimou helps us realize why Flying Snow is called so- as she fights with Broken Sword’s protégé Moon(Zhang Ziyi). Leaves fly, fall and change their hues instantly in this superbly crafted scene. ‘Hero’ is replete with such breathtaking moments when the screen fills up like an artist’s dream.

That ‘Hero’ also manages to tell a story, and an important one at that, gives the film a soul and not just a body. Martial arts transcends to tell a philosophical tale! I realize I haven’t written about the performances, but the performances(which are good incidentally) hardly matter in a movie like this. ‘Hero’ is a visual treat and Yimou indulges us with images after images of extravagant beauty. Words still fail me to describe what I have seen! Reviewed on the 12th, June 2005

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