(Ying Xiong) (2002)
Directed by Yimou Zhang

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Set twenty-two hundred years ago, at the time when the king of Ch'in was conquering the various kingdoms into which China was divided, Hero tells the story of a nameless man (Jet Li) who appears before that monarch and claims he has killed three assassins in fear of whom the king had been living.

Zhang Yimou's Hero is a beautiful even stunning film enlivened both by its various depictions of exhilarating battles and by its complex, affecting, and sensitively presented narrative.

Visually, the movie is truly astonishing. The director has carefully framed and choreographed every scene of his gorgeously filmed epic. The dance-like action sequences, which make extensive use of wire work in the style of the Wu Xia or Flying Swordsman genre, are consistently exciting and invariably graceful. Their loveliness, and, indeed, that of much of the movie, is further enhanced by the director's decision to bathe extended portions of the film in brilliant, vibrant colors. Combining the elegant and intoxicating action of his numerous sword fights with exquisite costumes, fantastic sets, and dazzling computer generated imagery, the director has created a movie of remarkable beauty.

While Hero's visual qualities are certainly its most appealing, the film's narrative is also well handled. It is, in fact, both intricately structured and affecting. After the nameless hero arrives before the king of Ch'in, he relates the stories of how he killed the three assassins. Having heard these tales, the king responds by narrating what he believes occurred, to which the hero replies with a narrative that is a refinement of his and the king's previous stories. Each of these narratives brings the viewer closer to the truth and, by doing so, develops a sense of tension not only about the events that will occur in the frame story but also about those occurring in the the stories being narrated.

Unfortunately, while Hero's faults are relatively few, the concluding moments of the film are exaggerated and tiresome. Although they are not so poorly done as to compromise the whole of the movie, they do detract from its conclusion. The ending is, sadly, overdone and maudlin.

Whatever its faults, Hero is, nonetheless, an exciting and visually appealing film.

Review by Keith Allen

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