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Hero | Review

Shades of Color

Epic might be limited as a period piece, but Yimou sets a new standard for all martial art films.

Finally! Zhang Yimou’s epic film gets a release date, and thankfully it’s not a direct-to-video mortuary release. Pushed back into an abyss of incomprehensible marketing decisions, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s martial arts cousin finally makes its way onto the big screen and thankfully, the film was left completely in tack. The only Weinstein touch-up was a slight alteration in the marketing presentation of the film – being referred to as “Quentin Tarantino presents…” in all the film’s advertisements. It’s an instantaneous money-making golden stamp of approval that might be good for Miramax other grounded titles.

China’s biggest movie production ever looks impressive, feels massive and features some of the best players in Asian cinema. Jet Li (Cradle 2 the Grave) plays the fearless, bigger-than-life warrior named Nameless, a mythical figure who, after all, did make a name for himself as a historical embedded hero. Sort of like verses in a song, this film is section off into three offerings – the same faces re-do the same actions only with slight changes in some of the text. The tale sees the progression of a one on one conversation, Nameless explains the chronology of events and how he eliminated the threats to the king’s throne. Yimou books each action sequence will this conversation a calibrated tense encounter. The impeccable cast consisting of Donnie Yen (Shanghai Knights), Tony Leung (Infernal Affairs), and Maggie Cheung (Millennium Mambo) who play Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow are the three potential spoilers in the plans of the King of Qin. To his non-surprise – there is a fourth one.

Hero doesn’t limit itself to combats, Zhang Yimou’s highly-stylized action drama and first foray into the martial art genre is a creative exploration into myth and history. In the form of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Yimou covers each flashback segment with a fantastical fight sequence. Blankets of color, of lush camera work and pulverizing movements literally paints the picture, – most of the film merges nifty cgi to the abundant set-ups of imagery to marvel at with the touch from cinematographer Christopher Doyle (The Quiet American). Each sequence is individually stylized with various film speeds, use of décor and of use of color to create emotional metaphors. The sequence that takes place among pounding rain-drops and the one that shows a sword swinging tornado forces amongst golden autumn leaves are sublime and visually breathless.

There is clearly a new acceptance for the kung-fu, martial art films from Asia. While most testosterone movie fans like their action films like their action American Chinese food, this is distinctly different – its ‘Chinese’ Chinese food that is easily accessible even with Yimou’s redefining touch – his attention to detail in each magically crafted duel offers a delightful mirage in modern cinema. If there is a positive facet to Miramax’s incompetent schedule making it’s that there are only a couple of months left until the release of Yimou’s next feature. Hero is a prologue to a great shifting in Zhang Yimou’s career.

Viewed in Original Mandarin language with English subtitles.

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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