The Chinese martial arts drama Hero has been around for a while--originally released in 2002, it was nominated for Best Foreign Picture at that year's Oscars, and it remains the highest-grossing Chinese film ever. But despite having the rights to distribute Hero domestically, Miramax has only recently decided to do so; if any film could be worth the wait, however, it's Hero, a film that blows away everything else currently playing--and possibly any other film released this year. It's that good.
Hero's story is deceptively simple--before China united as one empire, warring kingdoms fought for power. One of those areas, Qin, had a king (Daoming Chen) intent on unifying China--a goal that was met with dissent.
Enter Nameless (Jet Li), who's traveling to meet the king. Nameless has done what many thought impossible: killed three deadly assassins--Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Sky (Donnie Yen)--who targeted the king's life. As the king questions Nameless, Nameless's deeds unfold in flashbacks that prove far more complex than they first appear.
Hero's captivating story is tempered by astounding performances from Wai, Cheung, and Yen. But the real shock to American audiences will be seeing Jet Li's depth of performance--especially after witnessing camp fests like Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave. The blisteringly fast Li also infuses a sense of violent beauty into choreographer Siu-Tung Ching's plethora of ethereal fight sequences.
Cinematographer Christopher Doyle expertly captures those sequences' exhilarating fluidity, and is equally adept with his painterly use of color throughout. Bearing the trademark richness of director Zhang Yimou, certain colors become as pivotal to the film as its characters; both narratively and stylistically, Hero might be some of the most gorgeous stuff ever committed to celluloid.
There's been a lot of controversy over the cuts Miramax demanded before they'd release Hero in the U.S.; cuts that shorten the film for both running time and (presumably) American attention spans. The cuts are undoubtedly there, but they're nothing that first-time viewers will miss. And that's exactly who should be seeing this film--this is the first non-bootleg release Hero's had in the U.S., and it's an event that shouldn't be allowed to slip by.