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Film Review: Hero (2002)

Hero is Rashomon 2.0, taking the basic idea of multiple story retellings and refining it with epic vistas, beautifully choreographed sword fights, a lush colour palette, riveting plotlines, and a tiny dash of ancient Chinese history. Starring Jet Li as a nameless warrior recounting his defeat of three renowned assassins to the king of Qin (Chen Daoming), the tale is revealed in flashbacks with each portion of the story and subsequent reinterpretations taking on a different colour, moving from black, red, yellow, blue, green, to white.

The first assassin, Long Sky (Donnie Yen), is defeated in a peaceful, rainy chess house to the meditative tunes of a blind musician. At once, the film presents martial arts as an art form, similar to a dance between two deadly forces or a beautiful song of swords. The eponymous hero then faces the lovers Broken Sword (Tong Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) at a calligraphy school, where swordplay is linked to the movements of a brush. Swirling, balletic fights ensue among the protagonist, the two assassins, and Broken Sword’s lovelorn servant (Zhang Ziyi). With the three assassins’ weapons at his feet, the perceptive king begins to pick apart the story, culminating in a moment of enlightenment as he gazes upon a scroll drawn by Broken Sword.

Above all else, the visuals in Hero mark it indelibly in the genre of wuxia. The use of colour, which augments the stunning sets and costumes, is perhaps the most striking and memorable part of the movie. Numerous sublime compositions bathed in intense monochromes sear themselves into the memory of the viewer. The film’s sense of scale is also emphasized by repeated use of horizontal lines—from a mountain of stairs to endless ranks of soldiers, especially in the king’s palace—or by wide establishing shots of picturesque natural settings highlighted by single lone figures. Action sequences are given an elevated treatment to lend a supernatural/ mythological aspect to the prowess of the legendary assassins. Leaps suspend the warriors above trees and across lakes. Two swordfighters effortlessly plough through an army of thousands. Whirling silk sleeves create powerful tornadoes of fallen leaves. Hero is one of the most beautiful movies ever made.

Rating: 5 out of 5 massive calligraphic scrolls

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