A highly stylized and idealized retelling of an actual historical event, Hero is a Chinese martial arts film about a nameless assassin trying to kill the King of the Qin empire, back when China was still split into territories. Jet Li plays a nameless assassin sent to kill the King, who plans to conquer all surrounding territories and unite them into what will become China, and along the way encounters three famous assassins also trying to kill the King: Broken Sword (Tony Leung), his lover Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Long Sky (Donnie Yen).
The movie has three notable aspects: the visuals, the fight scenes, and the philosophical conversations.
The visuals were stunning, a success in every way and a delight to watch. Nameless and the King talk in a dark room wearing black armor, hundreds of candles flickering between them like a barrier of light between their darkness. Broken Sword and Flying Snow fight against a stunning autumnal backdrop, dying leaves swirling round them as they spin in fiery orange robes. A calligraphy class fends off thousands of arrows from Qin while painting words of peace in blood-red ink, wrapped in blood-red robes as they cry Qin won't silence their voices, even as blood and red ink flow together.
The fight scenes didn't work for me. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made its fight scenes flow, made me believe characters were flying instead of on wires. Hero didn't manage that. I never forgot I was looking at overdone wire-work. Adding in a lot of manga-type silliness like, "You must have the strongest technique anyone has ever mastered!" And, "I have mastered the strongest technique anyone has ever mastered!" And, "No one can stand against your strong, strong, technique from ten paces!" and the result was often more cartoonish than exciting. Then again, that's a matter of taste. If you love the fight scenes in manga/anime like Naruto and One Piece, you might like these, too.
The philosophy was somewhere in between. I don't want to spoil what the characters spoke about, but as this is a movie about the unification of China that comes up, as well as what the conquering of a kingdom means to a warrior. All the discussions were interesting, and most were well-written, but occasionally a silly line would creep in ("I have just come to a realization!") and take me out of both the themes and the movie itself.
Hero succeeds more than it fails, and most of its "failures" are really my own preference for dialogue and fight scenes. I wasn't left with any doubt of why it was so critically or financially successful, and even with my complaints, walked away impressed.
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