Wednesday, January 29, 2003

review: hero

Li Ang (Taiwanese name of Ang Lee) started it off with his superb Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which made me weep and stand applauding when I saw it during its theatrical release in Hong Kong.

Zhang Yimou adds to the corpus of new millenium new style-old school sword romances with Hero, featuring Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi as the principal actors. And he does not just add to the body of work developed around this theme, he actually surpasses Crouching Tiger on multiple fronts, creating a superior film.

I appreciated almost everything about this film, but here are a few elements that stood out:

1. absurdity/beauty - the juxtaposition of the absurd elements (impossible fightscenes, waterwalking, plot devices) with sheer brutal beauty (cinematography, art/production design) created a nice schism in my mind - the rational part would say "but that's absurd" and my eyes and heart would say "but that's beautiful" - resulting in an overwhelming experience as I settled down with an attitude of (let me use the sense of term they use for us new daddies when we hold and look at our new offspring for the first few months) engrossement.

2. Maggie Cheung's acting - my God, the last time I was floored by an actress was in In The Mood For Love, and guess who that actress was? Maggie Cheung. Through the course of the film's colors/truths, she growth, subtle differences of character and rising and falling tension. Her control over her face and body is superb. Which makes waiting for The China Box quite painful (she stars with another excellent Chinese actress whom I also respect - Gong Li).

3. Rashomon redux and other devices - truth via perspective told through colors, the sudden Greek chorus, all good.

4. art in martial art - choreography, mood and skill combine with beauty to create the fighting set pieces.

5. subtitles - the suprisingly good subtitles, though you have to forgive the rare lapses in grammar and spelling, came and went without detracting from the action/inaction of the film.

What detracted from a perfect 10 rating:

1. The points in the film in which it became masturbatory, reveling in its inventiveness. See it and see if you agree with me on this one. Just a little more editing.

2. Zhang Ziyi's unnecessary character - don't get me wrong, I love her, but from a textual privileged analysis, she could be done away with (though we'd lose one of my favorite fight scenes - Red: Yellow Leaves). Also, she's getting typecast in a particular role.

In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Go and see it.

Final rating:

Hero - ********* (of 10)


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