Directed By: Zhang Yimou
With: Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen
I was at the movie theater last week and I saw a trailer for Hero indicating to me that the laggards at Miramax were finally getting off their asses and releasing one of their stockpiled foreign gems. So in a nutshell i am going to use this piece to both praise one of the most visually lush movies i’ve seen in a long time, and then lambaste Miramax and all of the other movie studios that buy up foreign movies only to sit on them because they are too hapless to know how to release and market these movies.
Let’s get to it, Hero is a gorgeous dazzling martial arts epic, period. however saying it is a martial arts movie is not doing it justice whatsoever. When Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came out, it was an epiphany for those who had never been exposed to a martial arts epic, a relief for those who want more Hong Kong movies to cross over and be released her, and validation for the movie industry because it won awards and made a mint at the box office. That being said, Ang Lee opened the door for Zhang Yimou, whom you might remember from 1994’s amazing To Live, to step in and go to town; and that’s precisely what he did.
Zhang Yimou got himself an all-star cast with Jet Li who is a star in Hong Kong and was last seen in 2001’s unfortunate hollywood-tasm The One, Zhang Ziyi who we all know and love as the precocious teen princess cum martial arts master in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Hong Kong superstars who have each been in more movies that i can even begin to list, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung whom i last saw in 2001’s terrific Millennium Mambo.
So, to say the cast held its own is an understatement and a truth, however that being said I might have to go so far as to say that Zhang Yimou and his cinematic vision, his use of color, and of allegory is what truly blew me away. The story is fairly straight forward. Hero is set in ancient China with warring kingdoms and one paranoid emperor who is under a constant fear of being assassinated, especially by one of the three greatest warriors of the time. One day the emperor is told that one man managed to vanquish his greatest threats, those three warriors, and summons that man to tell him how he managed such a feat. That tale and its retelling is the crux and the bulk of Hero. I almost didn’t want to write that line because i feel as if it could take away some of the power of Hero and that is the last thing i would want to do, but then again I hate spoilers.
Now for my one paragraph on the sorry state of hollywood and of miramax in particular: shame on you all for keeping great films from us. You buy the north american distribution rights to movies so we can’t even buy dvds of these films, but then opt to not release them. Hero was released in 2002 in asia and i was fortunate enough to see it in Thailand last year, but there are som many more: Shaolin Soccer, Tears of the Black Tiger, Pulse, Battle Royale, The Eye and many more some of them being well over 3 years old.
So now that my one paragraph of venom is out let’s get back to Hero. I have to say it again that Hero is dazzling, visually lush and gorgeous, and i would recommend it to anyone regardless of whether or not they saw Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but if you enjoyed Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon then run to the theaters on opening day. Hopefully enough of you will pay to see this movie so that the greedy manipulative and clueless hollywood movie studios will release more of those stashed gems… Are you listening Mr. Weinstein?