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Normally I loath any film that makes you read. It isn’t because I don’t like to think while I’m at the movies, it’s because I go to the movies to enjoy a visually stunning experience, and dividing my time between subtitles and the action on screen usually proves futile. While many diehard international film fans may call me out on heresy charges, I always prefer a good international film dubbed rather than subbed. Call me new-school, old-school, or just plain crazy, that’s simply how I like my movies. Yimou Zhang’s Hero is one of those movies that is so visually stunning that you forget you are reading subtitles, and enjoy the film for what it is, a movie that should open the door a bit further for more Chinese and Japanese films to be openly released in the US.

Hero stars Jet Li as a nameless hero who meets with the King of Qin (Daoming Chen) after supposedly killing off three highly skilled assassins who want the King dead. The King is attempting to take over all the kingdoms of China with his sights set on becoming the first Emperor. Nameless retells his story of how he did away with Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Long Sky (Donnie Yen). To see Jet Li and Donnie Yen fight head-to-head was a real treat, even though their “battle” was relatively short.


The story is told a number of times after the King accuses Nameless of lying. Each time the story is told, certain elements evolve into truth and the more exotic elements are broken away revealing the true reason for the Hero’s visit to the King’s temple. The entire story breaks down to a revenge story, in which Nameless vows to kill the King who gave the order to slay his people. Unfortunately most of the film’s “twists” are not well kept and can be seen almost from the beginning of the film. Still, viewing the intricate martial-arts battles over and over again is a rewarding experience when compared to the cookie-cutter plot.


The cinematography of the film is excellent with bright, vibrant colors accentuating each scene and excellent wire work, which, apparently, many patrons in the theater where I viewed the film though this was funny. The technical aspects are unrivaled by anything to cross the ocean in recent memory. Not even the highly-regarded Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can match up to Hero.

There are parts of the film which are purely “foreign” to American audiences, including a laugh-out-loud “love scene” which is suppose to be serious but ends up like something out of a Western comedy (albeit, not a very good one). The acting is hard to judge by viewing the film in its native language, but reports have indicated that Hero is the “Ocean’s 11 of Chinese cinema.” Even though the film was originally released in 2002, it is nice to see Jet Li in something other than a Western movie cracking jokes or trying to become the next Jackie Chan. Nothing against either of the two physical actors, but Chan is good at what he does (buddy comedies) and Li is good at what he does (kicking some major ass).

The film has a few lighthearted moments, but the main attraction is the martial arts fights and special effects which liven up the screen and allow the viewer to seep into the film. Since there isn’t any dialog during these bouts, it makes it all the much easier to concentrate on the physical agility of the actors, rather than reading subtitles.

Hero is not a ground breaking experience, but it isn’t an average movie either. It is simply a well constructed, well filmed movie that suffers from some problems relating to a shallow plot, but quickly recovers with eye-candy visuals and fight sequences. Even non-fans of foreign film, or subtitles (like me) will enjoy the film based on its technical merits. Everything else is just toppings on a sweet, sweet cake.