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Let me start by saying that Hero was easily one of the best movies I've seen in a long, long time. Unlike AVP, which I needed to purge from my system as quickly as possible, I've spent the last few days holding onto Hero, thinking about what I could say to explain my reaction to it.

I went and saw it Friday night, before cruising the various reviews, and I'm glad that I did. Yes, Hero is full of the kind of "wire fu" that most US audiences will associate with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, there are competing accounts of particular events, which apparently reminds some critics of Rashomon. And yes, this is not a movie that is character-driven or story-driven, not in the sense that movie audiences expect.

Visually, though, this is a dazzling movie, and it does have interesting characters and it does tell an important story, albeit one that most US viewers won't be familiar with (namely, the founding of China). But it's not a historical movie so much as it is a mythic one, with scenes that are orchestrated down to every detail, and in many cases, the characters themselves are simply part of those details. Most critics note the color changes from version to version of the story, but my guess is that colors only form part of the iconography that drives each scene--the settings change (forest, desert, lake, etc.), as do key elements (water, wind, earth, fire), as do associations with different arts ("chess," music, calligraphy, etc.). Each facet of each scene is so carefully controlled, in fact, that I left the movie thinking that there was probably an entire cosmology of associations that we as an audience simply weren't privy to.

Not that this was necessary. The movie works in broad strokes, telling much of its story through implications that almost achieve the level of the iconic. Because it's focused so much on the visual, the story is almost told in outline fashion, and I suspect that this was much less objectionable to audiences who already knew the story. This movie focuses instead on the telling details, those which achieve the most mythic impact in the smallest and sometimes most subtle space.

One last thought that occurred to me today, and that's that I wonder if our expectations were somewhat askew because we're more familiar with Jet Li than with the other actors. That is, I don't think it much of a stretch to see the would-be Emperor as the protagonist, as he changes as much during the course of the movie as any of the other characters. And it's ultimately his epiphany that decides the outcome.

Okay. That's enough for now. I highly recommend seeing Hero on the big screen, and I myself plan on seeing it again there before it leaves. "See it twice" is the highest honor I can bestow on a movie, and Hero deserves it more than any movie I've seen in some time...


It is a visually stunning movie. As several folks have commented, however,
it seems to support (or at least "understand") the Qinshihuang's demands
for totalitarian rule over "all under heaven" (and by extension, the
Communist Party's totalitarianism--since so many of Zhang's movies have
political subtexts). Check out James
Boston's critique at http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/08/27/010551.php. (Or as "A
Better Tomorrow" writes, "I could picture Li Peng crying at this movie
and thinking to himself, 'Finally, someone understands what it means to be
a ruthless tyrant.'" [See http://www.bokane.org/abtom/archives/pop_culture/index.html])