Following the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the latest mystical Chinese import is Hero. Its path has been anything but straightforward. Nominated for Best Foreign Film in 2002's Academy Awards, the movie has yet to be released in the United States as of 2004 - and is expected to finally reach limited theaters in August.
Its failure to reach theaters has mainly been a result of Miramax's poor handling of its distribution, but it is still hard to figure out how they could sit on a potentially marketable film for so long. It has action, it has special effects, and just about everything needed to be a small hit - unfortunately, it is easy to buy the film on Region 1 DVD for under $6.00 on Amazon, and that includes shipping and handling.
Hero succeeds on the same foundations that drove Crouching Tiger to its overpowering domination in 2000 - action. The movie has plenty of action, all stylized and filmed with incredible precision by director Yimou Zhang. While some of the special effects do not compare to what can be found in Hollywood movies, they are good enough to show that almost-as-good effects can be created for much, much less money. The arrow-shooting scene is especially memorable, as is the sequence where Ziyi Zhang and Maggie Cheung (Moon and Flying Snow, respectively) duke it out in a garden that changes color.
In many ways, Hero is much more visually impressive than Crouching Tiger (to those who are a big fan of the Asian genre, I apologize for the simplistic comparison, but for most of us in the U.S., this is all we have to work with), but at times perhaps a little too stunning - some of the effects seem to be used for the sake of looking cool, rather than adding anything to the value of the movie.
Unfortunately, while Hero makes for a great action movie that should not be overlooked, it is not nearly as stupendous in the drama department. It is clear that those involved with the film were intending for this film to be the same moving masterpiece that Crouching Tiger was, but we don't all get what we want in life, do we? The acting, most notably by Jet Li, is pretty good, but not great. It is hard to relate to his character and (SPOILER ALERT) when he dies, I felt nothing. Furthermore, since the movie tells the story of Broken Sword and Flying Snow over and over again - via different perspectives and different truths - I never was able to feel for them either. The movie rewrites their characters over and over again rather than builds on them. Hero just does not connect on the emotional level that the storytellers obviously were aiming for.
Hero is a fun film with impressive action scenes and great visual style, but is not the powerful drama that it was intended to be.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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