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jet li

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.

The first half of this movie leaves you wondering what in the bloody hell is going on. Nothing makes sense, things just happen, and little to no explanation as to why they happened are given. In the world of Cradle 2 the Grave, events have no meaning, and no repercussions. The second half doesn’t help much, and it isn’t until a three sentence summary is given while DMX and Jet Li are driving in a car that you finally understand what is going on, and this is with 20 minutes left to go.

Cradle 2 the Grave doesn’t do anything really wrong, it just doesn’t have any substance to back up the kick ass fight sequences and hilarious comedy provided by Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold.

Grave stars DMX and Jet Li as a high tech crook (DMX) and a Taiwanese Secret Agent (Li) who are both looking for a stash of black diamonds that are more then they seem (as always). The movie doesn’t do a good job of setting up any sort of back story for any of the characters until further into the film, and only then it is a slight explanation of why certain characters are where they are. When Tait’s (DMX) crew pulls off a diamond run for an international criminal (who just happens to be a corrupt agent) and then lose the stolen diamonds to a competing group of thugs, they team up with Su (Li) to get them back, and foil a plot to yadda, yadda, yadda. You’ve heard this before.

Rather than having the movie move at the slower pace of director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s previous two movies, Exit Wounds and Romeo Must Die, things pick right up and never let off till the final battle with is eerily very much like Romeo. The action scenes are fast, nicely choreographed and leave you with a sense of awe, especially when Jet Li takes on a group of cage fighters. I do find it hard to believe DMX would be able to walk 20 feet up a wall, but anyone can use wires these days. Luckily the wire work is much less obvious than the horrendous effects done in both Wounds and Romeo.

As mentioned before, the comic duo of Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold are back (returning from Exit Wounds), but, of course, not in the same characters, although they allude to their former selves in the closing credit sequence. Arnold throws out so many one-liners and quips that you hardly notice half of them fail to make their mark, while Anderson’s big-black-man comedy routine is always funny, and this film is no different, I think we can forgive him for Kangaroo Jack.

While the plot is cliché, complete with a “they got my daughter, now I gotta get them” device, the movie does serve as some good fun. Don’t expect a cognitive movie that will make you think, because between the awesome Quad vs. Police chase and the lame-duck dialog you get a movie that could actually make you dumber for two hours while viewing it.

In the end Cradle 2 the Grave plays out like a really long, explosive, high-budget trailer that delivers action, some cool fight scenes and new windows into the spelling to today’s movies.