Hero is a great film, flat out. I enjoyed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but I personally found Hero to be much more engaging, both emotionally and intellectually. The film is centered around a lone swordsman who goes by the title of Nameless, played by Jet Li, whose mission is to stop three assassins who have vowed to kill emperor Qin. For all the history buffs out there, Between 230 and 221 BC, the Kingdom of Qin, led by Qin Shihuangdi, waged war and conquered the other six kingdoms, unifying the country into what would become the first dynasty of China which resulted in standardization of the written language, currency, and weights and measures. But in the midst of such great things, he also had a mean streak which garnered plenty of negative attention. Emporer Qin was ruthless in how he held onto the reigns of power, which included burning political writings and executing those who disagreed with his policies.
There is little background information given about the main characters and not a lot of context provided for each scene. However, Hero reminded me of what filmmaking and ought to be, which is a work of art. The cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking. And it’s a return to form for Jet Li, whose American efforts never reached the potential of his earlier Chinese films and who now finally has a project worthy of his talent. While there are no huge battle scenes, there are many individual matches between Jet Li and characters.
It is a fantastic film experience, filled with brilliant performances from end to end, including cinematography, acting and directing. Most of the story of Hero is told in flashback as Nameless tells his stories and the king questions him. Each scene is dominated by one primary color, from the opening desert white to the reds of the calligraphy school to the yellows of autumn leaves whose wind-swept swirls become weapons in themselves. One perspective is looking at this movie as if it were Chinese propaganda, since the movie tries to characterize the first King of China as a misunderstood protagonist being perceived as a tyrant. In reality, like I stated before, was that he worse than Hitler.
The message of this film was not written for American ears. It was made for a Chinese audience. It is often difficult to translate select elements and dialogues of an Asian film in a manner that Western audience would understand. This one gets a pass as it wasn’t a movie you had to pay extreme attention to in order to grasp its plot. Hero deserves to be enjoyed but one also has to accept that it’s an ambitious movie. It is superb, well done, and well worth seeing.