Friday, September 11, 2009

hero

all under heaven...


namless (jet li), a lowly provincial official, is escorted to an audience with the king of qin (chen dao-ming). he has earned this right, by slaying three assassins, feared greatly by the king; broken sword (tony leung), flying snow (maggie cheung) and sky (donnie yen). namless reveals, to the king, how he managed to dispatch three such notable rivals, but the king suspects that all is not as it seems...

as many people have already declared; having zhang yimou direct a wu xia epic, with cinematography from christopher doyle and choreographed by ching siu-tung, starring jet li, maggie cheung, tony leung, donnie yean and zhang ziyi, is a most mouth watering prospect. it's been a good few years since i first watched this, in fact zhang has churned out a couple of other wu xia flicks on the back of this to make himself a little trilogy, in the meantime. in all three of these films there is plenty to like, but none of them are without short comings: although i think 'hero' is almost universally accepted as the strongest of the three films.

first things first. 'hero' is a visual treat. doyle's cinematography, the vast array of stunning locations, the use of colour to define the mood / theme of each section of the film and the costume / production design are all second to none. ching siu-tung's fluid, wire-heavy, dance-like choreography is perfect for the film, although it, along with a healthy dose of cgi in places, may annoy and irk some viewers. apart from a couple of less convincing bits of cgi, which are forgiveable, i was okay with everything; oh, apart from maybe one bit of the jet / donnie fight, when donnie holds his spear under his raised leg, which just came across as being a bit daft.

the cast are all pretty strong; although chen dao-ming and zhang ziyi are worthy of special mentions, and having tony leung and maggie cheung on screen together again is rather glorious.

as for the narrative, the 'rashomon'-esque structure works incredibly well, although there is room to critique the over all narrative arc. the attempt to kill the king of qin is also dealt with in chen kaige's earlier film, 'the emperor and the assassin', which is more of a historical drama, than 'hero'. still, despite the fantasy elements, which manifest themselves only during action sequences, the film is still has, at its heart, the king of qin. qin was a man who did great things to unite and advance china as a nation, but he did so with an uncompromising, iron fist, burning books, crushing any signs of dissidence and killing thousands as the kingdoms were united.

for zhang yimou, a film-maker who has often been seen as a critic of the present chinese administration; it seems very strange that he would make a film which appears to endorse a totalitarian system, discounting human rights in favour of re-unification and so fourth. one does tend to think 'hmmm', if considering such thoughts when the film reaches its conclusion...

any hoo, despite the perception of a very questionable closing message, it's a bit of a gem...

be sure to get the standard edko release, as it has the original subtitles, not the stupid dumbed-down ones which feature on the miramax releases. the dvd is hk$45 from buyoyo.com

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