home : news : reviews : features : fiction : podcast : blogs : t-shirts : wtf?

Reviewed by Andrew Kozma, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Yimou Zhang (Director)
Genre:   Martial Arts
Released:   November 30, 2004 (DVD release)
Review Date:   November 29, 2004
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

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 seen Shaun 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

RevSF Assistant Film Editor Andrew Kozma is used to people talking about the swiftness of his sword. I mean pen.

Recommend Us
  • Send to a Friend
  • Digg This
  • Reddit It
  • Add to del.ic.ious
  • Share at Facebook
  • Discuss!
  • Send Feedback
  • will take them into the Wild
  • there are two means to do
  • we know something happens between him and
  • Movie Forum
  • Related Pages
  • Print This Page
  • Mummy : Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
  • The Forbidden Kingdom
  • The One
  • Search RevSF
  • New on RevSF
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Book Probe: BattleMaster, Wade of Aquitaine, Kriendria of Amorium
  • RevSF Podcast: Drowning in Moonlight: Remembering Carrie Fisher
  • Logan
  • RevSF Home


    Things From Our Brains
    Get even more out of RevSF.

    Geek Confidential:
    Echoes From the 21st Century
    RevolutionSF RSS Feed
    Search RevSF

    Random RevSF
    The Mothman Prophecies

    contact : advertising : submissions : legal : privacy
    RevolutionSF is ™ and © Revolution Web Development, Inc., except as noted.
    Intended for readers age 18 and above.