"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku

00568 – Hero

MovieHype00568 – Hero

I’ve long advocated the idea the movies—even great ones—can only be enjoyed in a good mood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not enjoyed a terrific movie because of what I brought in with me. (Conversely, I once shamefully enjoyed Miss Congeniality, but in my defense, I had just been given a brand new computer.)

All that is preface to say there is very little that prepares you as well to enjoy a movie than incredible food and super hot waitresses. Marcellus and I headed up to Idaho’s, a local western-themed restaurant. Despite the style, we got Yankee Pot Roast, which was good enough to make Marcellus quip that he was glad the North won the war.

As I often do, there were Questions of the Day. They included: rumor has it they are replacing James Blond. Counting only “good” actors (no Richard Simmons) who would make the best and worst new Bond? For BAD the names Jack Black, Kevin Costner (the accent), and Adam Sandler were offered. For GOOD we had Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Clive Owen, and this girl Parasol even said—and I am not making this up—Simon Cowell of American Idol. At first I laughed so hard I feared my Yorkshire pudding might come up. However, the more I thought about it…Simon is already suave with the ladies, has the attitude and the smirk…if he buffed up it could work.

I call this girl Parasol because she had an umbrella in her hair. Of course, I wanted one too, and Parasol got me the last one, pleasing me greatly. Nothing makes you as happy as an umbrella in your hair…unless it’s poking you constantly, but you can’t have everything.

Then Aslan showed and we spent 20 minutes discussing how women and architecture are similar. I’ll put that in a HyperionX some day. Then it was on to the movie.

When I write these reviews, my purpose is not to discuss the movie in detail; after you’ve seen it I’d be happy to do so. My goal is to give you enough information without ruining the picture (which I am death on) so that you can decide whether you want to see it. Occasionally I have an ancillary goal of exhorting you to see a film, or else to stay far far away.

This brings us to Hero, a Chinese-language (with subtitles) martial arts film of unmatched visual splendor. I can say without reservation that I haven never seen the palette of primary colors presented in such a bold, beautiful way. A symphony, a tapestry: pure poetry. But we’ll get back to that.

It is impossible to discuss Hero without mentioning Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The producers are the same, many of the settings are the same; the music is so similar that it was a little distracting, but that’s more a reflection of how profound an effect Crouching Tiger had on me.

I won’t say Hero is a better film (although, both Aslan and Marcellus unreservedly thought it was). To me, Crouching Tiger had a depth, a complexity that will never be matched. It was also principally a drama, with some amazing fight scenes. Hero is a fight movie, with some beautiful drama. It is a much simpler—and in a way much more epic—story, which can be described in one sentence: A man is telling stories to a paranoid king, who may or may not believe that man. The film comes across like Crouching Keyser Hidden Soze, which I promise will be very funny once you see the film.

The actors’ primary roles are to complete the incredible fight scenes. All of them were chosen primarily for their martial arts skills. However, there is a real poignancy going on throughout the film. Depth of emotion is conveyed with a glance, a half-gesture; down turned eyes. The subtlety is rich, textured, and makes the few outbursts of pure emotion all the more meaningful. Hollywood could learn so much here.

Marcellus, who speaks Chinese, tells me one of the main concepts translates to “Below Heaven,” and covers all aspects of nature on Earth. I can’t argue there. Hero is genius at giving us the purpose of stone, of dirt, of leaves (you’ll never look at a leaf in the same way again), of sand, and most especially, of water.

Then there is the fighting, which is presented as art; a beautiful dance. In fact, there is a lengthy comparison between sword-fighting and calligraphy, and both take a similar skill-set to master. The fighting is beautiful in a way I’m not able to describe and barely able to comprehend. If you’ve seen Crouching Tiger you know of what I write, but it is even more so here.

Then there are the colors. Hero is awash with them, and as majestic as the fighting, the scenery, and everything else is, color is the film’s signature piece. There are Blacks that soak up the light like a sponge, holding darkness and menace like weapons. There are Whites the flow like water; silent and inscrutable, sad and resolute. There are Grays—yes, Grays—that gives us the context, grit and texture to what we see; reminding us that every step means sacrifice. There are Greens; verdant and lush, secret and mysterious. Blues that are calm, majestic and enveloping. There are Yellows to make you wonder at the magic still in this world, and then there are the Reds. Sweet Jebus, are there Reds. There are pale Reds; pink and sassy, dark Reds, almost purple; forbidden and sexual; Reds almost a shocking orange and there is blood Red; blood blood blood Red. There are only two drops of actual blood in the film, but the color persists, dominating, dying down, and coming back.

I have no idea what these colors mean, any more than I do the symbolism of nature, the interplay of sword-fighting and language or the multivariate meanings of their words. Part of me would really like to know. Another part is content not to; perhaps even prefers it. I grow weary of western-movie mentality requiring tidy wrap-ups and paint-by-number conclusions. Hero gives us at once a simple yet complicated story, painted on a canvass too fantastic to be real yet impossible not to believe.

I can’t promise you will like the film. Some people simply can’t get past subtitles. Others want everything explained to them. But if you see Hero you will get a love story to break your heart. You will get a scene with arrows and calligraphy to take your breath away. There is something beautiful, sumptuous and beguiling in every single frame. If you yearn for beauty, if you’re willing to suspend disbelief for a story told a different way, you should try Hero. Even if you end up not endorsing the film, it may make you a better person. How many movies can say that?


Suspension of Disbelief Index: 10. There is a scene that takes place walking on water. That’s one of the more realistic shots. Don’t let that concern you.

Genre Grade: For Martial Arts films, A-. For Foreign Language films, A. I have it on good authority the translation is excellent, and it’s easy to follow.

Pantheon Percentile: 87. I could watch them again and again.

August 29, 2004

Thanks to Marcellus and Aslan
Thanks to Parasol

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