Nameless comes to the King and confesses to killing the three most dangerous enemies of the King. He is given court and describes how he accomplished this seemingly impossible task.
When I first saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon I sat in the theater amazed at the spectacle. As a very late bloomer to the entire Asian Wushu martial arts genre, I had no idea what to expect. Over the next few years, the success of Ang Lee’s Oscar nominated film caused a number of similar films to receive U.S. releases and I consider Hero among the best of them.
The film opens with Nameless (Jet Li) being given court with the King of Qin, a leader who is trying to unify Chinese territories through merciless ways. The king has made enemies over the years including Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen). Nameless is able to gain the trust of the king by bringing proof that he has killed the king’s three greatest enemies and sits across from the king, telling the story of how he achieved this task.
The story is told through flashbacks and contains some of the most aesthetically beautiful fight scenes I can recall. Crouching Tiger, while a wonderful movie and a beautiful picture, does not hold the same repeat value as Hero, a film I can still watch today enjoying the battle scenes as much now as when I first saw it. The battle between Jet Li and Donnie Yen in the chess house is amazing. This is not the first time the two have faced off, as they battled in Once Upon a Time in China 2, but the two fighters were determined to make this battle one that would trump their original in every way. It helps that Li is the man responsible for Yen receiving the job and the two do not disappoint.
As great as that fight is, the battles between Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyv in the fields and between Li and Tony Leung over the lake are simply breathtaking. The color palette that director Yimou Zhang uses is amazing – grays for the king’s chamber, bright red for the first battles and bright greens for the assassination attempts. When contrasted with the visuals of the lake and leaf covered fields, it makes for an amazing visual experience. Zhang used the same beautiful color designs for his follow up films House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, but those films never reach the level he set for himself with Hero.
The storyline, a mysterious man comes into town and battles opposing forces, seems to be lifted straight from the films of Akira Kurosawa but this story owes a little more to Rashomon than Yojimbo. The structure is set up to reveal a puzzle, one that we figure out along the same time the king does. Hero takes these old, fabulous Chinese legends and parables and brings them to a new generation of filmgoers. While the ending is a little hokey, that is also alright given the fairy tale nature of the movie.
I have always been a fan of Jet Li although I am someone whose original introduction to all these actors was through US releases. While Hero may not be the best movie for some of the actors (Leung will always be remembered by me for his role in Infernal Affairs), Hero is still the best movie to come out of the Wushu rush of movies to the United States.
This Special Edition is nothing more than an attempt to sell more DVDs. For those of you who already own this movie, do not be fooled by the SE because it only includes one feature that is not included on the old edition: Close up of a Fight Scene. The feature starts with Quentin Tarantino saying one of the greatest fight scenes ever is between Jet Li and Donnie Yen from Once Upon a Time in China 2 and Hero has what Tarantino calls a rematch. The idea to cast Donnie Yen in the fight was suggested by Jet Li because he said his fans always clamored for the two to face off again. It then moves into the big fight between Zhang Ziyi and Maggie Chung. Finally, we see the fight over the lake between Jet Li and Tony Leung. All five actors are given time to talk about the scenes. It is a nice little feature (under 10-minutes) but not worth double dipping the DVD.
Carried over from the original DVD is the making-of featurette Hero Defined, storyboards, and a conversation with Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li. I’ve never cared for this feature, but that might be because of the narrator. There is a lot of information here but it is not an enjoyable watch. The conversation between Tarantino and Li, about Li’s career, is enjoyable as the two discuss Li’s movies from a fan’s point of view.