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Foreign language film is a visual masterpiece

Rama Gottumukkala | Monday, September 6, 2004

At first it doesn’t make sense. With no long-winded explanations or details, men and women soar into the open sky, engaged in a graceful ballet of martial arts. It’s been seen before in Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But the statue of limitations on this sort of entertainment seems to be timeless as this hybrid of art and action still feels like a breath of fresh air. While “Hero” does not capture the same heartfelt emotions as its artistic predecessor, it still succeeds on its own as a simply beautiful, lavish piece of filmmaking.”Hero” tells the story of a distant war torn land when ancient China was divided into seven kingdoms. Qin (Daoming Chen), the ruthless and ambitious emperor of the northern province, is rising to power and seeks to unite all the seven provinces under his iron fist. However, he is under constant threat of assassination from the three greatest warriors of the time, Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen). When one of Qin’s local magistrates claims to have defeated all three warriors, the nameless champion (Jet Li) is summoned to the king’s palace to relate how he managed his single-handed victories. In many ways, “Hero” feels like an evolution of the same visual elements that made “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” such a wonder to behold. Watching the fight scenes is like watching poetry in motion. Awash with color and lush settings, each battle seems to have been hand painted with a brush to produce breathtaking results. Two particularly memorable conflicts included one set amongst a swirl of countless, red-tinted spring blossoms and another on the clear, serene surface of a remote lake. Painstakingly rehearsed and coordinated fight choreography just adds to the overall equation and produces moments within the film that rival, and sometimes surpass, those in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”The cast of “Hero” has been described as an Asian version of “Ocean’s 11” in its collaboration of the most successful, A-list Hong Kong film stars. The performances in “Hero” certainly support this claim. Jet Li gives a quietly reserved, tranquil performance that is unlike many of the big-budget action films that have catapulted him to fame. But the most memorable moments within the plot come from the requited love between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung’s characters. Instead of playing on the pair’s passion, the actors give much more subtle performances that focus on their characters’ search for a peaceful end together in a harsh, embattled world.The primary downfall for “Hero” is its length, or lack thereof. In order for the motivations of the characters and their ideals to really resonate, the themes of the film should have been explored for more than 90 minutes. The themes revolving around honor and a warrior’s duty form the main focus for the film but there are times when these themes seem to be pushed to the rear in order in order to fast forward to another captivating warrior clash. For this reason, the film does not resonate with the same raw emotion that “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” did.Instead, “Hero” will probably be remembered more for the beautiful images it conveys. If audience members take a step back and allow themselves to soak in all that the film’s artful canvas has to offer, they might really love the film. And that’s certainly not a shabby way to be remembered in years to come.