Right now, you need to go out and see Hero on the widescreen.
Rush the theatres! Bring your own popcorn! Pay for the ticket
and then slide on through the front doors!
The theatre managers will tell you that Hero is out,
that its day is done. Don’t listen! Say you crave to see Tony
Leung (the real draw as Broken Sword), Maggie Cheung (Flying
Snow), Zhang Ziyi (Moon, who also starred in Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon, which is probably the reason she’s featured
— along with Jet Li — on the DVD cover since, really,
her part in the movie is definitely one of the smaller ones)
(phew, that was a long parenthetical insert) (anyway . . .
), Donnie Yen (Sky), Chen Dao Ming (the King of Qin), and Jet
Li (the nameless warrior).
That might be a bit of a mouthful, especially if you include
the parentheticals, but it will be worth it. This movie needs,
nay screams to be on the widescreen.
Unfortunately, scream and scream all you want, the movie is
now only on DVD, and though you can still see the original widescreen
vision on your TV or computer (my preferred choice) there’s
a slight difference in scale. This movie bleeds color. The fighting
scenes are epic — in both the senses of scale and of poetry
— and are arresting even on a small screen.
For those of you not familiar with the movie (like me, having
not seen it in the format it desires), the story involves the
recounting by a nameless warrior to the King of Qin of how he
killed three assassins, the king’s deadliest enemies. In fact,
I could tell you exactly what happens from the opening quotes
to the final credits and it wouldn’t matter, wouldn’t interfere
with your enjoyment of the movie one jot.
Well, maybe one. But the point is that this movie is not about
turns and twists in the plot — though the plot’s echoing
of the classic Japanese tale Rashomon might make you
think so. Really, though, Rashomon isn’t about twists
in the plot so much as different perspectives on the same events
and how the real truth is often interweaved within those perspectives,
unable to be separated into something simple, or even something
that doesn’t contain contradictions.
To clarify, there is nothing that the movie is really trying
to hide; even the points of greatest tension are not so much
what a character does, but what effects ripple out from the
character’s action. At the outermost ripple, the king’s flawless
plans for conquest result in a calligraphy school being decimated
by an army shooting wave after wave of arrows. At the inmost,
a simple change in understanding comes from wiping a drop of
water from a dead woman’s cheek.
In the world of Hero, all masters of trades, of arts,
are equal even though the focus in this movie is on sword fighting.
Watch closely the musician in the fight scene with Sky, how
he prepares himself for his encore performance. Note not only
the movements of the master calligrapher, but his lack of fear,
the way he seems as immune to normal weapons as the assassins
and the nameless warrior.
This movie is beautiful. As a work of art it lives up to its
own equations, comparing swordplay with music with calligraphy.
The scenes are all choreographed for maximum visual and musical
appeal, the drums and violin telling their own story, just as
the colors tell theirs, all in addition to the plot. All elements
combine to make it not so much larger than life, but more sidestepping
the life we expect, more dreamlike.
That will of course call comparisons with Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon. Here there are people flying (or, if you
want to be skeptical, making really long jumps) and walking
on water. But in Hero all that spectacle serves to forward
the emotional plot of the movie. It’s hard to make a hard and
fast reckoning between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
and Hero because, in the end, the movies are aiming for
such separate targets.
Luckily, it’s easy to make the recommendation to see this
film. The direction is exquisite, the cinematography is like
someone dancing with your eyes, the acting holds emotion like
an earthquake beneath the actors’ skin, and the music, the music
you just need to hear. Like a friend of mine said, if you haven’t
of the Dead yet, then see it — but after that
you should find yourself plopped in front of a TV or computer
screen watching Hero. Imagining what Jet Li and the rest
of the crew would do faced with a world full of zombies.
The features aren’t that interesting. For your money you get
an interview -- wait, I mean a conversation -- with Quentin
Tarantino and Jet Li; Hero Defined, basically a Making
Of featurette; storyboards with musical accompaniment; and an
advertisement for the soundtrack.
First I’ll tackle the advertisement. They call it a spot.
Okay. Second there are the storyboards, which are, admittedly,
pretty interesting. They are accompanied by some of the beautiful
soundtrack (the only complaint on that note being that the same
music is used for all the storyboard scenes). Here you get to
see what the director and cinematographer were planning out
for each scene and can to compare that vision with the final
product, as the storyboards and the scenes from the movie are
played in split-screen. It seems, at times, that we’re not being
presented the storyboards as they were originally laid out but
as they fit the finished scene — but only one storyboard completely
matches the finished scene.
Third, you have the featurette Hero Defined, which
is pretty nice. Although it seems to have been filmed as a promo
for a movie channel to get people interested in buying the DVD,
it has a lot of interesting info and bits with all the production
staff. Especially notable is that Chinese films still have casts
of thousands, and not just digital reproductions — though,
of course, there’s some of that too. Also, it’s great to get
the inside analysis on Yimou Zhang, the director, who's probably
best known in the U.S. for Raise the Red Lantern (and
soon to be known for House of Flying Daggers). He made
his reputation with dramas but, according to this featurette,
has always wanted to make a swordplay film. Watch the film,
listen to his methods for madness, and judge for yourself.
Fourth, and last, there’s a conversation between Mr. Tarantino
and Jet Li. This is uninformative and uninteresting. It allows
some Tarantino self-promotion — though ostensibly the
focus is Li — and seems shoddily spliced together with
some other random bits in order to stretch time. This short
repeats info we already get from Hero Defined, and although
it does present info about Jet Li we don’t get elsewhere on
this DVD, it is so off topic to this movie that I give
its inclusion on this DVD a D-.
Or an F+.
Granted, Tarantino’s personality hasn't grown on me yet. And
this experience hasn’t helped.
The Movie Itself: 9 out of 10
The DVD Extras: 5 out of 10