a critiQal film review Hero (2002)

Plot: In a time of great wars in China, a nameless man (Li) has a meeting with the king in the Qin province of China. He relates his tale of taking on three of the deadliest assassins in the province: Sky (Yen), Broken Sword (Leung) and Snow (Cheung).

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  • ...this martial arts epic should garner more interest in Hong Kong cinema and martial arts films in general.

Quentin Tarantino, best known for his films in America (Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994)), is also becoming known for bringing foreign martial arts films to an American audience.

After the success of his first venture, Iron Monkey, he brings a Jet Li film to America: Hero. It did decently in theaters, but I wanted to wait until it hit DVD.

Why? Namely, since it is in Chinese, I didn’t want to read subtitles the whole film, so waited until it hit DVD so I could switch it to dubbed instead. I know, true foreign film fans will say you don’t get the full effect of the film by watching it dubbed, but it’s just so much easier that way. So, would Hero be another Li/Tarantino triumph, or should this film have stayed overseas?

Jet Li (best known to American audiences for his roles in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) and The One) really gets to showcase why he’s such a huge star overseas. His martial arts skills really are so impressive to watch. He has such a fluidity that is rarely seen in martial arts actors.

Other actors (like Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan and the like) are much more choppy with their motions, delivering brunt punches, kicks, etc. Jet Li, on the other hand, has a real grace with his movements, letting them flow from one move to the next so easily that it’s like the whole sequence of punches and kicks and swordplay is just one fluid movement. It’s really impressive to watch, and makes you appreciate his skills that much more. His acting isn’t half bad either.

The other stars most American audiences won’t recognize. Donny Yen some may recognize from Quentin’s earlier import, Iron Monkey, and Zhang Ziyi may be recognized from her role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). These are just their accomplishments American audiences may recognize, whereas in Hong Kong, they are all huge stars. They really mesh well together in the film, and hopefully may break more into the American mainstream as a result of this.

The martial arts sequences are the true highlights of the film, and each showcases it’s own unique attributes. Too many films rely on just one “trick” to impress the audience (ex: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) used high-flying tricks to impress in each of it’s sequences). Here, different fighting styles, high-flying stunts, great cinematography and even a vivid use of color help define each sequence in it’s own way. They are all very impressive to watch, and never disappoint.

All in all, Hero is a must-see for any martial arts fan. It probably won’t have the broad reach that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) reached, but it should garner more interest in Hong Kong cinema and martial arts films in general.

We’ve seen a bit of a slackening of martial arts films as of late, especially after the big explosion of martial arts onto the scene again a few years back. Hopefully, the impressive action sequences in Hero will bring about a couple more decent martial arts films, just as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) did.

It looks like Quentin still knows how to pick good films. Here’s hoping he’ll continue to bring more films like this to mainstream American cinema.

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