Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Inside The Action - a conversation
with Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li. Hero Defined. Storyboards.
CROUCHING Tiger, Hidden
Dragon marked something of a watershed in the way martial
arts movies were perceived by mainstream audiences, in that it
opened their eyes to a world in which spiritualism and sentiment
could sit comfortably alongside moments of spectacular action.
Yet if you thought Ang Lee’s epic was impressive, wait
until you get a load of Hero (Ying xiong), Zhang Yimou's breath-taking
masterpiece about a lone warrior who bids to assassinate a king
in pre-unified China during the 3rd Century BC.
Jet Li stars as the nameless assassin in question, a mystical
fighter who has captured the imagination of a nation by single-handedly
defeating the trio of resistance fighters who were believed to
represent the biggest threat to Daoming Chen’s king, Quin.
It is only when Li is granted an audience with Quin, however,
that his true motivations are revealed, via a series of Rashomon-like
flashbacks during the course of the conversation between the two.
For while Li’s defeat of Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying
Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen) rates among the bravest
of feats, not everything is quite as it seems, as hidden motives
become revealed and issues of honour and destiny are gradually
Hero, somewhat ironically, has been sitting in the Miramax vault
for a couple of years, despite being hailed as a work of genius
by most who have seen it, and earning an Oscar nomination for
best foreign language film at the 2003 ceremony.
When it did emerge in American cinemas
a few weeks ago, it stormed to the number one spot, and held on
to it for a couple of weeks.
If there is one criticism to be found, it’s that the film
probably doesn’t engage as emotionally as it might like
to, but there is no denying the visceral beauty that heralds Zhang
Yimou as an artist of the highest calibre.
Many of the set pieces contain a surreal, almost balletic beauty,
thanks in no small part to Siu-Tung Ching's amazing choreography,
Emi Wada's rich costumes and Christopher Doyle's ravishing cinematography,
all of which serve to ensure that proceedings are consistently
breath-taking and demand to be seen on the Big Screen.
A rain-soaked confrontation at the beginning of the film, for
instance, contains a hypnotic quality that puts the effects-dominated
likes of The Matrix Revolutions
to shame, while another confrontation in a forest filled with
red leaves is, quite simply, mesmerising.
It is during such moments that the film sets new standards, while
raising expectation for Zhang’s follow-up, The House of
Yet, while the set pieces will undoubtedly become the main talking
point, they never come at the expense of the story, or its characters,
which both offer plenty for the viewer to enjoy.
The interplay between Li and Cheung is particularly well-realised,
while Ziyi Zhang also builds on the good work she did in Crouching
Fears that the Rashomon-style of the story might make it feel
repetitive also prove unfounded, as Zhang proves himself adept
at ensuring that proceedings never feel as though they are re-treading
old territory; instead, managing to pack proceedings into a crisp
It is yet further compelling proof that some of the best films
of the moment are coming from shores further afield than Hollywood.