I finally got around to renting a movie this week that was released back in 2002, Hero. It's a Chinese film, and quite remarkable. The story is about a warrior who goes to a warlord to say he's killed three assassins. But it's as much Rashoman as it as Sheherezade. We're not quite sure what the true story is, as we see the events from the past different ways, and also we sense that the warrior is trying to engage the warlord in a tale, for his own benefit.
None of this is confusing, everything is laid out clearly. But it's done so intelligently, but -- most of all -- breathtakingly. It's one of the most gorgeous films I've seen, almost like watching a French Impressionist painting.
In fairness, the whole movie doesn't look like this, but it's all done with the same craft and visual eye and attention to detail. I was prepared to fast-forward through some of the inevitable, looong swordfights, having seen enough of them in Chinese films, but they were so stunningly filmed, so inventively stylish -- I don't mean in how the fights were staged, but rather the cinematography -- that I wanted to watch.
Let me put this in a perspective that will make this more understandable:
Did you see the stunning Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics? Do you remember the awe-inspiring scope and the way they were able to get such majestic beauty and artistry from spectacle? Well, the man who staged that -- Zhang Yimou -- was the director of Hero. That should say enough. (He also co-wrote the screenplay, along with Li Feng and Weng Bin, just to give proper credit...)
The film also stars a couple of recognizable names for American audiences -- Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi (she's the young girl from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And also Rush Hour 2.)
If you're scared of movies with sub-titles, know that they're limited here. The film isn't dialogue-heavy. That's not because it's just an action film (though there's lots of action), but rather because it's thoughtful, and it uses its dialogue carefully, letting the audience get drawn into the story. The story is thoroughly accessible, and has true Chinese history as its background. It's an adventure, romance and intimate mystery, as much as it action and spectacle.
Hero was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film. It lost to Nowhere in Africa which was a wonderful movie, intelligent and deeply moving, more so than Hero. But from a pure filmmaking standpoint, Hero has it beat hands-down. But then, from a pure filmmaking standpoing, Hero has most movies beat, hands-down.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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