Friday, January 17, 2003


So the question on everyone's lips is: Is "Hero" better than "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"?
My opinion: Absolutely.

I caught the movie last night at GV Grand, which boasts an excellent big screen -- reserved for the newest releases -- as well as a terrific sound system ( perfect for this film, as I will explain later ).
A good friend of mine, who's also a wuxia fan, was with me. And let me tell you, if you're ( like me ) totally clueless about "cultural" Chinese films, it helps a great deal to see "Hero" with someone who knows a lot about this genre. Reason? Certain scenes seem extremely cheesy, and the audience couldn't help giggling quite a number of times. For example, the swordfight between Sky ( Donnie Yen ) and Nameless ( a really cool Jet Li ) pauses suddenly mid-battle as the latter requests an additional song from an old blind musician. Then there's the other fight between Flying Snow ( Maggie Cheung ) and Moon ( Zhang Ziyi ), which ends with the latter being slain and doing a few pirouettes before dramatically collapsing onto the ground. Standard wuxia fare, my friend assured me. Nothing unexpected. Gave me a good perspective! :D

Okay, on to the story. Basically, it starts with Nameless arriving at the palace of the Emperor of the Qin dynasty, claiming to have killed the king's 3 dreaded assassins. He is promptly rewarded, and asked to retell his tale. In the process, the emperor picks up on suspicious details, and later on, manages to see through this supposed hero's version of events, discovering the truth at the very end.

The movie is told in 3 different ways. It begins with the lie, then the emperor's amended story, then the authentic version. The now-famous colour-coding scheme is as follows ( with helpful insight from above friend ): red represents the lie, blue the amended truth, green the past, and white the actual truth. Each sequence is a feast for the senses!

The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed, and far superior to those in "Crouching Tiger...". The pace is so fast it's sometimes impossible to see their every move, so don't blink! I feel that the main reason I enjoy "Hero" is because the actors are so much younger than Chow Yun Fatt and Michelle Yeoh -- though both are capable actors, they falter during intensely physical sequences. With veterans like Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi, wuxia comes alive and sends shivers down your spine as you watch them engage in mortal combat. Aided by fantastic sound effects -- which greatly enhance the clang of the swords, the whoosh of a tornado of autumn leaves or a swirling silk gown, the soft plop of a drop of water -- it is cinematic drama in top form.

Now we come to the actors, of which I shall only mention the 4 who made the biggest impression on me. Zhang Ziyi excels once again as a hot-headed but beautiful and skilled swordswoman, adding just that extra "oomph" to any period wuxia film. Jet Li defies all laws of gravity and physics, and is clearly at home in this movie, in comparison to hair-raising turns in "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Romeo Must Die".

Still, my favourites are Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung. The former used to entertain my family during my childhood days, as we faithfully followed the TV series "The Duke of Mount Deer". Since then, he has forged an admirable career for himself, though I haven't actually caught any of his more famous projects. In "Hero", he steals the show without a doubt. A dead ringer for Jim Caviezel ( who starred in "Frequency" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" ), he also shares the latter's affinity for emotional roles. Be it anger, love or remorse, Leung exhibits them all flawlessly and effortlessly. If this doesn't get him an Oscar nomination, I don't know what will.
As for Maggie Cheung, she shines like the sun in her role as Flying Snow. Possessing fine-featured beauty and grace, she adds layer upon layer of complexity to her character. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the plot, she spends the entire film locked in perpetual sorrow or rage. However, watch for a scene somewhere in the middle of the movie, where she parts ways with Broken Sword in the desert, before fighting it out with Nameless. As she walks to her ride, she suddenly turns back to look at her lover, and in that split second, a tentative but unforgettably gorgeous smile touches her lips. And the next moment, it's gone. It is a poignant few seconds, the stuff classics are made of.

The screenplay is terrific, and the script, extremely well-written. Even the English translation succeeds in preserving the poetry of the original dialogue. The climactic scene is guaranteed to resonate for quite a while after you leave the theatre. The theme is so much more all-encompassing, almost at a level similar to that of the "Lord of the Rings" saga, yet it can also be intensely personal as well.

A truly visionary effort from the master Zhang Yimou.

"Hero" has already become the all-time highest-grossing film in China, and has received numerous glowing reviews from the Western media. Chances are high that it will win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film this year, but it remains to be seen if it will earn accolades in the directing and acting departments.

Don't wait any longer. This MUST be seen on the big screen, so get your tickets now.

Next movie I'm greatly looking forward to seeing: Catch Me If You Can. ( Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg -- a film buff's nirvana! :))

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