“People give up their lives for many reasons. For friendship. For love. For an ideal. And people kill for the same reasons. Before China was one great country, it was divided into 7 warring states. In the Kingdom of Qin was a ruthless ruler. He had a vision to unite the land, to put and end once and for all to war. It was an idea soaked in the blood of his enemies.”
I have to say that Hero has to be one of the most beautifully shot films I might have ever seen. This is the first time I’ve watched a martial arts film and embraced it as a total high definition experience. The film contains many incredible fighting scenes that are brilliantly choreographed and brutal in nature. But it all takes a back seat to the incredibly breathtaking cinematography coupled with seamless and fantastical CG enhancements. The film is stylish in the extreme, and it might be easy for the story or characters to get lost in this marvelous imagery. They don’t. Fighting scenes might move from black and white to blazing color. Back and forth with incredible rapidity. Yet everything is intensely clear and is never jarring. There is a distinctive Sergio Leone influence from the music to the angles. Too often films use a frenetic pace to hide a multitude of visual sins and hope it’s accepted as brilliant artistic flair. Here you’re invited to savor each moment. The filmmakers dare you to pick apart the imagery or the fighting stunts. You’re encouraged to linger and take it all in. All of the fighting from huge battles to intimate hand to hand takes place in the most exotic and unreal of settings. The film is a study in contrasts at almost every turn. Bloody battle takes place amid stunning beauty. It’s all a rather provocative yet effective blend of traditional Asian cinematography and modern filmmaking. It’s not the kind of film you see. It’s the kind of work of art you experience.
“In every war there are heroes on both sides.”
A warrior known only as The Nameless One is summoned for an audience with the King. He has been invited to approach closer than anyone has been allowed, under penalty of instant death, for some time. For the King has been a worried king. Three renowned assassins have been sent to kill him. He does not sleep. He does not leave the sanctuary of his palace. But this nameless warrior has vanquished the three killers and has set the King’s mind at ease. As he is invited closer and closer to the King he recounts the story of his victories. But, alas, there are two sides of most every story. And, the king has his own version to tell. In flashbacks we witness the two versions of events. What is the truth? Is he a glorious hero or something more treacherous, and a danger to the King?
What perhaps amazes me the most is that this very artificially created environment still allows the film to feel authentic. I must confess I’m not a huge Jet-Li fan at all. I can appreciate his talent, but I want to be entertained. I’m much more a Jackie Chan school student. You can’t take away from Li that this is a wonderful performance. His sense of purpose and skill overcome whatever prejudices I had going in. I once wrote a song that described a war in musical terms. Much of this film looks exactly like the imagery I was trying to create. There’s a line that says: Fighting like dancing a ballet in rhythm. Now if anyone asks me what that means, I’ll point them toward this film. The entire cast inhabit their roles to perfection. At least rent this one; whatever you do, you simply must experience this film at least once.
Hero is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/Mpeg-4 codec. Every now and then a film just comes alive in high definition. This is certainly one of those. I can honestly say that if you have not seen this one in HD, you just haven’t seen this one at all. Colors are magnificent and bold. The stylish rainbow of artificial colors just breathes life into your monitor. The scene where the sky and leaves turn red is one of the best examples of color I’ve seen. Even with the explosion of a single color, all of the image details remain. Each leaf has a distinct shape. Contrast and detail are about as good as you’ll see. Some of these vistas are breathtaking, and it translates quite well to the screen. This one can well be a system show off piece, to be sure. That’s what you get when you allow your presentation to clock in at an impressive 40 or more mbps.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is pretty solid. What matters here is nuance, and the audio delivers. Background sounds are what really bring this presentation to live. You will be able to close your eyes, if you can take them away from the startling images, and find yourself transported to the realm of the film. Dialog is very clear. Even dubbed, this mix doesn’t stand out as artificial, so common on a dubbed film even with a good uncompressed audio track. Finally, the subs add just that final component to make watching this film truly a rewarding experience, if you have the right gear.
Close-Up Of A Fight Scene: (9:18) SD Quentin Tarantino hosts this look at the fight choreography and the much anticipated rematch between Jet-Li and Donnie Yen.
Hero Defined: (24:01) SD This has the look and feel of a television documentary you might catch on Biography. Much of it is in Chinese with English subtitles.
Storyboards and Trailers
At times I saw this film as an Asian Gladiator. It carries many of the same themes. There’s even a scene at the end where the troops look to the king for permission to execute a guy. As the camera lingered on him pondering his decision, I half expected a thumbs up or down motion from him. The fights don’t hide the fact that they are obviously done through a ton of wirework. I’ve never even been much of a dance fan at all. But, there’s something about these movements that are captivating. I honestly expected to hate this film. Man, was I wrong.