Judge Mike Rubino is presented by Quentin Tarantino.
"Since you wish to die, I will assist you."—Flying Snow
Hero debuted in China in 2002, was nominated for Best Foreign Film in 2003, debuted at the top of box office charts when it was released stateside in 2004, and still, despite all of this, can't get a decent DVD release.
When the film was first released in China, it was the most expensive movie the country had ever produced, and it was also one of the most successful. The story, thinly based on events from Chinese history and legend, revolves around a nameless prefect (Jet Li, Fearless) as he attempts to kill the King of Qin (Chen Dao Ming). The king has been trying to unify the Chinese territories into one land for over 10 years, but his merciless ways have made him a target of three deadly assassins: Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Sky (Donnie Yen, Blade II). By claiming to have killed all three assassins, Nameless (as he's called) has received a private audience with the King.
The film unfolds through various flashbacks, each of which features an epic martial arts (Wushu, technically) fight between the various assassins. Like Rashomon, each flashback features new developments in the story, and new truths replacing fabrications from previous segments. As the film progresses, and Nameless and the king trade stories, tension builds to a surprising climax and resolution. The message of the film stresses China's need for unification at any cost, and the ending feels a little melodramatic (as is the case with these sorts of movies, I suppose); but it's ultimately a fantastic martial arts story that needs to be seen.
Hero is also notable for its visual style and choreography. Director Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers) turns what could have been a standard Wushu fighting flick into contemplative art house cinema. The various scenes and flashbacks in the film all have their own color scheme: the framing story of Nameless and the king is cast in cold grays; Nameless's first battle with Flying Snow and Broken Sword at the calligraphy school is in bold red; the assassins' previous attempt on the king is in bright green; etc. Each scene is crafted with not only a surreal sense of color and atmosphere, but also with optimum fighting potential. Jet Li and Donnie Yen facing off in the chess house, in their minds, is sweet, but by far the best fight in the film is Li and Leung fighting in mid-air above a lake. Zhang, and choreographer Siu-Tung Ching, take the wire effects from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and elevate them above mere gimmickry (how about that pun!).
The film itself remains a classic, and certainly one of Jet Li's finest. Sadly, I can't say the same about this lame double-dip release from Miramax. Presumably, this disc is arriving only because of the film's release on Blu-ray. It's also been branded as a "Special Edition" all because of one new bonus feature. You still get the same uneven video transfer as before, with bouts of over saturation and edge enhancement. The audio tracks are also similar to the ones of the previous release, although it looks like Miramax added a Spanish audio track and some extra subtitling options.
All of the old supplements made the leap to this new disc. "Inside the Action: A Conversation with Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li" features these guys sitting down and talking about Li's martial arts career. "Hero Defined" is a standard promotional/behind-the-scenes special. There are also storyboard comparisons and a commercial for the Tan Dun soundtrack—it's a great soundtrack, but why is this a commercial and not an actual featurette? The only new supplement in this entire disc is a ten-minute video called "Close-Up of a Fight Scene," which offers a brief look at the choreography for the movie's major battles. While it's cool to see a little more in-depth discussion about the lake fight, or the chess house scene, this video is still light on substance. Where are the deleted scenes? Why isn't there a more in-depth documentary about the production? And how about a "Name That Assassin" trivia game?
Hero is a beautifully shot Wushu martial arts movie that deserves better than this. If you own the previous DVD, there is absolutely no way that a lightweight, ten-minute special feature makes this worth picking up. It's a double-dip cashing in on the Blu-ray release. That said, if you're a fan of martial arts movies, this is certainly one to have in the collection.
Guilty of a shameful double-dip.
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