MARTIAL ARTS DRAMA
The ultimate goal of a warrior is to lay down his weapon," says one of the weary combatants in this must-see movie by Chinese director Zhang Yimou (The Road Home). Fortunately for viewers, it takes plenty of sensational battles before the final warrior gets to call it quits in Hero. If you found the fight scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or the Kill Bill movies amazing, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.
What makes Hero special is that it has so much more going for it than just the superb fight sequences. There are a satisfyingly complex plot, passionate romance, cool special effects and strong performances by a handful of China's top actors. Best of all, even though the movie feels like a massive epic, Hero hurtles across the screen in 99 high-voltage minutes.
Set 2,000 years ago, it starts with a name-less Chinese warrior (Li) being congratulated by his king for having killed off three assassins (Cheung, Leung and Donnie Yen) who had plotted against the ruler. Nothing is as it seems, though, and in flashbacks we see multiple versions of what happened, with each shifting perspective adding richness to the plot and characters.
Hero is visually voluptuous, with a different vibrant hue dominating each sequence. For example, in one noteworthy scene Cheung and Zhang (see page 101) duel, each woman dressed in a bright orange robe, swinging her sword and leaping impossibly high amid a swirl of falling yellow leaves. This is what the magic of movies is all about: knowing that something is too fantastic to ever be real but loving it all the same. (PG-13)