A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Hero (2002)

April 13, 2011

Hero (2002)

I’m finding this movie difficult to review. It’s an amazing, gorgeous, poetic masterpiece of a film, and that right there could be everything I have to say about it, but it’s a bigger film than that. Not just larger in its epic scale with its cast of tens of thousands or its great wide gorgeous vistas, either. This is a movie with a grand, impressive central message that overshadows the action and drives the motivation for some of the main characters. It’s a message that I find myself somewhat uncomfortable with, and as a result I’m vaguely uncomfortable with the entire film, though I cannot deny its greatness.

This film takes place in ancient China, before it was even a single country when it was a collection of smaller warring nations. Jet Li is a nameless warrior who has, at the start of this film, somehow vanquished three deadly assassins who have been plaguing the lord of the Qin. How could this single unknown have bested Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow, each of them masters of the martial arts who have defeated hundreds of Qin soldiers? The movie is told in flashback as Nameless relates his tale, and as he is questioned by the Qin lord it is slowly revealed that he is not what he at first appears to be. Ultimately Nameless has a fateful choice to make – one which will shape the very course of history.

This was the first of several spectacular and artistic wire-fu action films directed by Yimou Zhang, and probably the most ambitious. The stories that Nameless tells are full of grand emotions and epic swordplay. Within the context of this film it makes sense that these larger-than-life figures are able to defy gravity and the laws of physics. They are more than simple mortals – these almost mythical figures, and these stories being told are like tall tales about vanquishing titans of yore. Beyond that there’s the way the story unfolds. Nameless and the Qin lord take turns telling different versions of events, and so we get to see several key scenes replayed in different ways, which adds to the story-book mythical feel of the movie.

It has a strong episodic feel to it. Each distinct fight scene has its own aesthetic (something I recognise as a Yimou Zhang trademark) and the various re-tellings of events each have a different color palette, which helps keep them distinct but also heightens the unreality of the film. As we circle closer and closer in to the truth of the past and what has actually happened that led us to the point we are at now it becomes clear that this movie has a deeper message. I would almost say that it has an agenda.

I appreciate the message that there are greater forces in the world than personal gratification or individual vendetta. This movie has at its core conflicted characters having to deal with choices that will alter the course of entire nations. The English version even starts out with a block of text that sets the stage by asking us to think about those beliefs that people are willing to die for or kill for. What I can’t wrap my head around, and what ultimately makes me uncomfortable about the movie is that it promotes the notion of achieving peace through conquest. At least that’s my ultimate interpretation and that leaves me feeling slightly uneasy about the entire film.

I won’t deny that it is mesmerizing and gorgeous. Magical and mythical. It involves some fantastic visual story-telling and awe inspiring scenes with unprecedented scale. It is an epic movie and a gorgeous one. It involves many, many fantastically choreographed and filmed fight scenes. It has great acting and daring costume design. I just happen to disagree on a fundamental level with its core premise, which makes me a little sad. Because I’d really like to simply love this movie on every possible level instead of simply respecting it for its art and its composition.

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April 13, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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