A lot of people may have the opinion that Hong Kong action movies are little more than light hearted martial arts oriented fantasy. With the gravity defying stung work and ultra fast pace fast pace fight sequences I suppose it is only natural for a cursory examination to lead a person to such a consensus. The fact is like any well established film genres this one is represented by s spectrum of quality. Some movies do fall on the end that contains the silly action comedies and predicable crime thrillers. On the other end of the scale are those films that provide such intense focus, grandeur, imagination and sheer beauty that it adds to the collective art of cinema. Such an example of the latter was released in 2002, ‘Hero’ by noted master of Asian filmmaker Yimou Zhang. Right from the start this film flies in the face of convention and will strongly challenge your preconception not only of the genre but more importantly what constitutes being a hero. The traditional concept of heroism held by western cultures as typified here in the States is a person who is undaunted in his ability to face danger without regard to personal safety. This is the Gary Cooper or John Wayne manifestation of this concept that is used as the touchstone to gauge a hero within these cultural parameters. In this movie the Asia concept of the hero is naturally explored. This affords not only a different set of parameters to define a hero but the necessity to accommodate a cultural paradigm different from our own. In this context a hero is defined on a deeper philosophical level. A hero is seen on a deeper philosophical level; he is a person who places honor above all else. A hero is not a matter of rising to an unexpected, mortally dangerous situation; it is the culmination of a lifetime of dedicated physical, emotional and mental training.
Director Yimou Zhang is a man with a vision for his craft that is far beyond his years. No one will be able to watch this film and not have their perception of Hong Kong cinema remain the same. He may not be as well known here over in the States as say the Shaw Brothers or John Woo but after honing his considerable abilities for over two decades he is certainly receiving the recognition he has earned. As the writer of the d he relates the story to his audience in a series of flashbacks told though different vantage points. Has with any account related from a person’s memory each telling us a variation on what may or may not be the truth. What matters here is not internal consistency or even the veracity of one particular variation over the others. It is the voice that each viewpoint finds and how it is able to reach out to the viewers. This brings us to how Zhang works as the director of this piece. In short it is a thing of rare beauty. Many directors can either concentrate on the canvas of their film providing a visually stunning work that lack direction as a story. Zhang approaches the master story teller Kurosawa in his proficiency weaving a story that is simultaneously entertaining and intellectually stimulating.
The motif of recanting a story on the verge of entering into the realm of legend is well served here. As with most accounts of heroes this one is at liberty to stretch the truth and bend the natural laws more than a little, there are there are the required epic martial arts battle sequences enough to keep the fans of the genre happy but there is a departure from any attempt to ground them in reality. Here the action takes on a surreal dream like quality whose texture is woven into the overall tapestry of the film. There is far more care taken with the development of the characters along with the progression of the circumstances. One thing shared with many lesser films of the genre is the setting; feudal China. This was a time of warring factions each convinced of their own inherent superiority. It was before any serious thoughts of unifying this huge country under a single banner. It was also the time that the mettle of a man was based on the edge of his blade and the strength of his convictions. In this story a group of three professional assassins, Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) Long Sky ((Donnie Yen) have taken on the task of killing the despot ruler, King of Qin (Chen Daoming).upon hearing of the plot the king was issued a bounty on the lives of the warriors. Coming to claim the reward is a nameless man (Jet Li) who tells the king of his encounters with the assassins. There no doubt that Jet Li has become the undisputed center of the Asian film universe. Not only is his ability to move sheer poetry but is able to carry a scene with the emotional punch that make watching him in a non fight sequence just as much of an experience.
Speaking of an experience I was able to watch both the DVD and the Blu-ray verisions of the film and although the standard DVD is beautifully rendered the break taking cinematography by Christopher Doyl come alive in high definition. This could easily become the film you pull out to impress your friends with how a high def movie should look and sound. I have never seen colors as vivid as the ones that will enthrall you here. the contrast holds together perfectly and even in the fast pace action scenes there is no sign of artifacts. Even if you are not particularly into Hong Kong action this film will become a favorite.