Eastern films have been a personal favorite of mine ever since I first saw Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master when I was in our small little apartment with my mother and sister. Martial arts films have a soft place in my heart and invoke a peace and childish wonder that not many genres can pull off. It’s most likely due to the fantastical choreography and Asian landscapes that produce shots that can pass as paintings and this is why Hero is arguably in my top favorite films of all time.
Taking inspiration from the traditional concepts of Chinese heroes, Yimou Zhang enlists the talents of one of Asia’s most talented and famous on screen martial artists to lead his film in Jet Li. Alongside him on the cast list are Eastern acting legends like Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Tony Leung. Telling a story of a nameless warrior (Jet Li) and his journey to earn the reward after killing three of the deadliest assassins in within the seven kingdoms, it becomes a much more complex story between Nameless and the three assassins he goes up against.
Not only is the story unlike nothing I had or have seen to this day, but it is shot with such vivacious color schemes that have yet to be duplicated in any other film. What it manages to do is show itself as an Eastern stylized film and holds nothing back with its grand scale and bold choices of colors. Scene after scene we are given the moods and stories through whatever bold color choice chosen for that scene and almost literally paints the picture the director wants for you to see in those specific moments.
Naturally, this is at the end of the day a martial arts film, and even though it boasts much more than brilliant action…the action is sick! Jet Li is also a personal favorite when it comes to on film martial artists and it makes it all the better he collaborates with two of the best in the business in this film. Like martial art in general, each fight scene is poetry in motion, not just the blood splatter of standard action films, but rather emotions and vibrations through weapons.
This film has action, it has a brilliantly focused and planned out plot, and it has romance you can appreciate. Romance tends to either be hot or cold for some people, but it plays a vital role in the film’s story and allows plot details to move fluidly. It is over the top in the best kind of ways, but not overbearing. The romance is one of fantasy and reality swirling like the paint and ink used for the calligraphy spread throughout the film. It becomes complex enough to make you want to solve the mystery that grows with the Nameless protagonist and the people he meets. It is like seeing cherry blossoms fall into a river, even though the blossoms aren’t permanent their impact once you view them is permanent.
Hero is brilliant film making whether you like martial arts films or not and that is because it is more than a martial arts film with flailing weapons and death punches. It has a story that makes you want more and satisfies from beginning, middle, and it’s unfortunate end. I am obviously giving this film an A+ and nothing less. For it’s sheer beauty alone, I would encourage people to see the film at least once before they die because it is a spectacle to behold and a great film for your eyes and spirit.