Gorgeous epic simply hollow

By Peter Hemminger

Ah, the sound of a thousand critics cheering in unison. Play a movie with certain requirements–say, a foreign film that mixes attention-grabbing action with art house elements–and the literati can barely contain their glee, saliva pooling in collective mouths and out their pens. Hero is sitting at 94 per cent fresh on www.rottentomatoes.com. If that’s not consent, clearly I have no idea what is.

Watch the movie and you’ll see why. It’s beautifully shot, with cinematography that catches the art in both falling leaves and flying arrows. A battle on the surface of a placid lake rivals Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s treetop battles for sheer martial-arts impossibility. But the film relies too much on technical merit and admittedly captivating visuals, and neglects both the narrative and emotional heft.

The story is told primarily in flashback, with Jet Li’s nameless warrior explaining to the King of Qin how he defeated three of a rival kingdom’s deadliest assassins. Since the story is told almost entirely in flashback, there’s never any dramatic tension. The victor is certain, otherwise he couldn’t be telling the story. Add to this the fact that the majority of the movie doesn’t even occur, as events are retold in varying degrees of truth and it is simply impossible to care for the characters involved.

Many reviewers have drawn comparisons to Kurosawa’s Rashomon, in which the story of a crime is told from varying perspectives, forcing the viewer to draw their own conclusions regarding the nature of truth. Having not seen that film, I was more reminded of Clue, the adaptation of the Milton-Bradley board game starring Tim Curry. Clue’s claim to fame in theatres was its three separate endings–depending on which screening you attended, the killer would be different. When it was released on video, all three endings play in sequence, telling you twice what could have happened, before finally revealing what did. Hero works much the same way. Instead of incorporating truth from different perspectives, it simply consists of lies told for a very specific purpose.

There’s no denying Hero is one of the most visually sumptuous movies to emerge in years. If rich colors and highly stylized battles are all it takes to make a classic, then Hero’s near unanimous acclaim may be deserved. But if emotional depth and a compelling narrative are just as important, the acclaim is harder to explain.

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