Hero (Ying xiong)

After the huge success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it was inevitable that similar films would be produced. Hero has one of the highest production budgets of a Chinese film ($30 Million) and its cast is a veritable list of Chinese talent – Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi.

Set during ancient times in China, Hero begins with the introduction of a nameless warrior (Jet Li) who arrives at the palace of Emperor of Qin, Ying Zheng (Chen Daoming). The Emperor has been trying to conquer the neighbouring kingdoms and unite China under his rule. As a result the Emperor has been targeted by numerous assassins from the neighbouring territories. All have been foiled and killed except three who remain thorns in the Emperors side.

The nameless warrior who initially arrived at the Palace arrived to be honoured by the Emperor for killing the three assassins that plagued the Palace for years. The reward for killing the assassins is innumerable wealth and the highest privilege – and audience with the Emperor – an audience that is never normally granted as no-one is allowed within 100 paces of his Highness.

With the weapons of the defeated assassins as proof of their demise, the nameless warrior tells the king how he killed the three. He begins with his battle with Sky (Donnie Yen) and how he managed to defeat him. The Emperor listens in rapture as the warrior continues with how he managed to divide and conquer the other two assassins, lovers Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung).

As the nameless warrior finishes his accounts of how he defeated the assassins, the Emperor reveals that he might know something about the events too and then from this point, half-truths, rampant speculations and blatant lies are brought into light and then cast away into shadow. Allegiances are questioned and formed and others are broken and questioned; events overlap and finally through flashbacks the truth is revealed.

The plot, even with the twists and turns, cannot throw the fact that it could be construed that it exists only to have the main protagonists face off against each other in spectacularly stylised fighting. As the actors are accomplished martial artists themselves they give the fighting action high levels of excitement with some great visual aesthetics. Some of the action which, as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is enhanced with digitally removed wire-fu, twists the laws of physics even more than the aforementioned Ang Lee masterpiece. The law of physics take a complete back seat during a fight over a lake for example, but even then it manages to get away with it due to the stunning visuals.

Cinematographer Christopher Doyle has done an outstanding job with creating the look of the film. It’s filled with wide expanses and beautiful landscapes, all shot with glorious colours and fantastic art direction. Another superb visualisation is during the flashbacks, as each account of events that might have occurred is shown, a different colour predominantly features. For example, one flashback would have predominately green (green outfits, green silk curtains, green grassy backgrounds etc) and when another account of what happened is illustrated then red or white is used. Using this style of swapping primary colours during the story, gives the film a very distinctive look.

Donnie Yen, who has unfortunately the smallest role, shows the fighting ability that everyone wanted to see him cut loose with in Blade 2. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung unfortunately lack the chemistry of Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh for example – probably as it’s difficult to portray undying love for each other while constantly hacking at one another with swords. Jet Li gives a great controlled performance as the assassin-killer, rarely breaking from his cool calm mannerism – mind he doesn’t have to do much but look cool and kick arse. It seems that Ziyi Zhang was added to the cast to increase the female lead count and isn’t as good as she was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – which is surprising as her role, although lesser, could have been placed in either film.

On the whole, Hero is visually superb and has a good storyline. Director Yimou Zhang knows that the selling point is the look and feel of the film. He does tend to go a little overboard with the slow motion during the fighting, but on the whole has done a good job. It was destined to be compared to Ang Lee’s modern classic as not only is it stylised but it also shares a cast member with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Hero is a cross between art house flick and kung-fu flick and should appeal to a broad audience, especially with the recent success of its aforementioned comparator.

Score 9/10