Lurking inside the Chinese martial-arts spectacular "Hero" is a sinister force indeed an ethic that blatantly justifies the repression and murder of political opponents.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Other reviews will surely gush about its fast-paced martial-arts action and lush, colorful photography, but the truly jaw-dropping thing about "Hero" is how it instantaneously turns from "Crouching Tiger II" to "Honey I Shot the Dissidents."
The movie starts as a conventional but exquisitely filmed slice-'em-up featuring several of the stars and production geniuses behind such breakthrough hits as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "In the Mood for Love." The hero (Jet Li), referred to only as "Nameless," is invited into the throne room of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi (Chen Daoming), to recount how he has vanquished three assassins who sought to once sought to slay the emperor. But with each retelling, the story changes and it appears uncertain whether Nameless is really a loyal hero or a secret assassin himself.
|Original title: 英雄.|
Directed by: Zhang Yimou.
Written by: Li Feng, Wang Bin, Zhang Yimou.
Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Daoming, Donnie Yen.
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle.
Edited by: Angie Lam, Vincent Lee, Zhai Ru.
In Chinese with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site
To explain what's fundamentally wrong with this seemingly straightforward epic, it's necessary to violate the usual rules of film reviewing and discuss the ending in detail. |
If you're sure you want to read the spoilers, click here.
The words and deeds that close the film may strike most Westerners as simply part of a stock fable, comfortably distant in the past and in a remote culture but they are a hidden dragon. The message of this made-up legend was not written for American ears it was made for a Chinese audience, to whom the words will burst off the screen as if written in flames. The emperor stands for today's rulers, who routinely justify human-rights horrors in the name of national unity and stability. Internally, they use the Taiwan unification issue to whip up political support; externally, they continue to justify the Tiananmen Square massacre, repression of Falun Gong and religious observers, political arrests, and other human-rights abuses. "Everybody attacks us! Nobody understands what we are trying to do!" is almost exactly what the Chinese government says of itself every time meddling outsiders find fault. Just this summer on the Tiananmen Square anniversary, a government representative defended the 1989 massacre as necessary to protect the country from the forces of chaos. The distinction between students with signs and assassins with swords is lost on them.
Plenty of people will just sit back and enjoy the fast-paced action, charismatic actors and lush colors of "Hero," so why get stuck on this one issue? Well, this question about how to respond to pro-fascist film has been around almost as long as film itself we still debate the merits of the pro-slavery "Birth of a Nation" and the pro-Nazi "Triumph of the Will." (I would even throw in the less overtly pro-Jim Crow "Gone with the Wind.") And the answer to that question is that films help shape our visual, psychological and intellectual instincts, and this is a film that teaches beauty, violence and authoritarianism at once. A beautiful film that exalts killing opponents of the state is a beautiful parchment on which is written, in the most elegant calligraphy, a manifesto for evil.
|AUGUST 27, 2004|
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Reader comments on Hero:
Hero from Emily, Aug 25, 2004
truth from What's American, Sep 7, 2004
thanks from barb, Aug 28, 2004
Awesome from Dan Omlor, Sep 13, 2004
Re: But from skeptikos, Dec 26, 2004
hero from tso t'an, Feb 21, 2005
ask from mujahid, Mar 31, 2006
Re: ask from Bubba Hotep, Apr 11, 2006
??? from Kessel, Nov 4, 2007
Bravo from tsering, May 29, 2010
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