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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Hero Lands in America

Just two years ago, Zhang Yimou’s martial-arts thriller, Hero, was the biggest hit in Chinese cinema. After a long awaited arrival, Hero has landed at a theater near you, undergoing a record breaking opening weekend in North America.

Martial arts fans will unquestionably enjoy Hero as an action thriller, while ordinary moviegoers will enjoy a colorful taste of Chinese legend, as each section of the film is shot in primarily one shade-red, blue, green, and white.

Jet Li stars as the Nameless hero from the title, who is called upon to the palace fortress of the King (Chen Daoming) to be honored for defeating the assassins who have been out to kill the monarch for 10 years. The film centers around Nameless, who tells the king three tales of his involvement with the assassins: Long Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung), arriving at the truth of the matter with the third and final account.

Set in the third century, Hero equates Chinese legend with Matrix-style sword battles in virtually every scene. Each of the tales told by Nameless involve ridiculous, yet entertaining, slow-motion sword fighting where each combatant suspends in mid-air while skillfully flailing a sword, while the opponent waits for the fatal plunge.

The first swordfight he recounts is a rainy duel with Long Sky. Nameless defeats Long Sky and is led to a pair of conspirators at a calligraphy school who are plotting a coup d’état: Broken Sword and Flying Snow. The two were once lovers but are turned against each other with the help of Snow’s romantic rival, Moon (Zhang Ziyi).

One beautifully filmed battle scene in particular was between Flying Snow and Moon. Shot in the midst of an autumn landscape, a continuous wave of falling yellow leaves showered the women as they went at it with their blades. Post-sword insertion included no bloodshed. Instead, the abundance of leaves transformed into a deep crimson color.

A series of these stories are told to the King. The King knows enough about his adversaries to poke holes in the story and Nameless is perpetually forced to change his account.

It seems that Quentin Tarantino convinced Miramax to release film, on the basis that the same audience who enjoyed the Asian aesthetic of his Kill Bill movies would be fond of Hero without a radical editing of the film. Tarantino’s inkling seemed to be, literally, right on the money, as Hero grossed over $18 million on its opening weekend.

Controversy has been brewing since the movie’s 2002 release in China and Hong Kong, where Zhang has been criticized for making a film that embraces fascist nationalism. In the film, the King explains his intent to conquer all of China’s provinces in order to unite them and that the happiness of the individual must be sacrificed for the good of all.

All in all, political criticism aside, the movie was merely an adventure tale filled with movements flaunting the laws of physics. Hero took so long to be released here that Zhang’s next movie, House of Flying Daggers is already complete and set to be released here around Christmas time.