Ying xiong (2002)
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First, there are scenes of haunting beauty("Duel in the yellow forest" and "Turquoise autumn" to site a couple) that, like the best of impressionist paintings, are so affecting that you will forever see the world in a slightly different way having once beheld them.
Secondly, the overall message of the film is a provocative one. The claim is that a degree of human casualties and suffering may be the optimal path to a better world, especially when the alternative is equally brutal chaos. This is not a popular theme. It has become much more fashionable to be anti-war in all cases. And understandably so, since variations of this logic have often been used in the past to justify atrocities. But the film provides a crisp litmus test for avoiding delusion: action must be taken with a heart void of malice and an unwavering commitment to the broadest possible ultimate outcome of good for all. Can anyone live up to this standard? Several characters in the movie do, each in their own way. If the standard could be met, would the world be a better place? These are questions worth reflecting on that have not been dealt with, to this depth, in any film I'm aware of.
The imagery is unparallelled, simply draw-droppingly near perfect scenes, with bold and vibrant use of colour, symbolism and scenery. The fluent flow of the storyline, the delicate direction of the sword slicing action, the Chinese cultural concepts and the emotionally charged scenes between characters combine to produce a simply remarkable achievement.
This film has a few elements from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but is far, far superior in every way. The sleek direction from Yimou Zhang is so perfectly done, just imagine two martial arts experts ensuing in battle against each other, defying the laws of physics as we know it, and yet following them in 360 degrees in slow motion as one deflects a droplet of rain from one sword to the other, at the same time spinning and leaping over water... simply beautiful. The attack sequences are also superbly set, with hundreds of thousands of the King's warriors in formation, simultaneously firing enough arrows into the city which literally cover the sky, in addition to the viewer being able to watch the journey of a single arrowhead aimed during this event. The build up to the attack along with the unnerving tune of a Chinese stringed instrument help you, as the audience, to become firmly engrossed in your seat.
The individual martial arts is also second to none, for myself particularly to see the distant shots of the whole battle sequence showing the true skills involved with fighting, such as footwork, perfect timing,aggression, counter attacks and defence. Jet Li shows he is truly the grand daddy of martial arts. I cannot stress enough how much you need this film in your life.
The colourful imagery imposed by the director will take your breath away with luscious, vivid, bright, wind-blown,draped backgrounds as the setting for the important progression of the story. Even the story itself is brought to the audience in such a way which ensures your undivided attention, as there are twists in the tales and hidden plots which do not develop until the end of the film.Even short individual scenes are memorable due to their sheer awesome display of skill and speed.
This film even holds a political message which is relevant to all times, especially in today's American-lead world dominance. This film has absolutely everything - including an extremely sexy young Ziyi Zhang who simply is the biggest hype to come out of china since SARS.
This film was released in 2002, but this is certainly one of my all time favourites and will probably be the best film I see all year. I have never been more enthusiastic to pursue films in this genre in my life. For more action type enthusiasts who like more gore and violence check out 'Ong Bak', but for people who appreciate a fuller, visionary piece of martial arts filming, this will leave you speechless.
Hero is a film that is beautiful in many aspects. The direction and photography is artsy without being pretentious. Every shot is worthy of being a work of art in itself. The language spoken is traditional mandarin, but oh, so easy to the ear, even though i couldn't understand every word. (I don't think Tony's and Maggie's voices were dubbed, but i could be mistaken). The main characters were very well acted out, especially that of the role of the Qin Emperor. Zhang Ziyi's character was largely insignificant though, so i think she's been put in to add some star power to the production. The fighting scenes are unusual by most standards, employing an interesting combination of CGI and real action. Some of the powers that the characters possess appear too amazing to be true, but remember that some of the fights only took place in the fighters' imagination. The music, though quite similar to that in CTHD, is appropriate, and sticks hauntingly to the back of your mind long after the movie is over.
I went to the cinema having heard some of the hype leading to the movie, but with no real knowledge of the storyline, and not expecting a lot. I think that helped me enjoy the movie more, because the way the story unfolded actually set me thinking and anticipating in a manner that i could not have had i known more about the storyline. The message at the end of the movie is simple, but certainly open for debate. In fairness, i don't think the director attempted to provide an answer, as to whether the decision made by the Nameless One was the correct one or not, but rather to ask questions. I'd better not give out too much here, but it certainly set me thinking about things for a little while after the show had ended. These days, any movie that can get me pondering after the credits go down has got to be pretty good.
Overall an excellent movie. I'm sure some areas could be better, but i can't think of any right now. Highly recommended.
Hero is two sides of a tale as presented by Nameless (Jet Li), a mere Prefect who defeated three deadly assassins, and the King of Qin (Daoming Chen), the man the assassins wished to kill. Nameless weaves his heroic though modest story of how he killed the assassins, but the King remains unconvinced, spinning his own version of how he believed events unfolded.
Director Yimou Zhang takes us through Nameless' story first, spreading the battle sequences thick, allowing them to take their own time. In the King's version, certain battles are then revised, which is remarkably brave considering that some battles are utter fabrications. In one such fictitious fight, in a faultlessly designed set, Nameless and Sky (Donnie Yen) close their eyes and fight out the battle within their minds. Screen time is being spent lavishly on showing how two characters contemplated a fight, whilst fighting each other in a battle that never occurred. It is confusing certainly, but perhaps Zhang wished for his audience to get lost in the plot's design so that they would not question the warrantability of half of the battle sequences, which make up most of the film.
Yet, it is difficult to ponder these details when they are made so utterly insignificant when viewing such a spectacle. The sheer beauty of the battles, the gentle floating of the assassins as they fly around their arenas (which range from a forest full of orange leafed trees, crisp leaves falling down to the ground like rain, to the crystal clear and calm of a mountain lake), the costumes of characters at varying stages in the story line (red for passion, green for youth, white for truth, blue for love), the amazing army scenes which feature thousands of arrows being fired into the sky to create a black cloud that descends right on top of the camera, all these elements combine to produce a faultlessly perfect image on the screen, each frame a worthy photograph that gently reminds you why cinema is the greatest art form of the twentieth century.
And characterisation is not lost in this beauty as one may have feared. Despite the irritating two dimensional performance of Zhang Ziyi as Moon, the other actors carry off fine performances, especially Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Broken Sword and Daoming Chen as the King. Their performances are especially credible as they are often drowning in the memories of the King and Nameless - they need to change slight mannerisms in order to reflect whose mind they are now in.
The script too is of an impressively high standard. The moments of clarity that the warriors feel are experienced by the audience also, and there are some very informed outlooks of the emptiness of warfare, communicating that to achieve peace, sometimes war is the only option. These messages of course seem fitting in our current times, underlining how ancient some of the methods of our governing body truly are.
Hero is undoubtedly a most beautiful and awe inspiring film. What it lacks in plot substance, it makes up for with structure and script. It elaborates on the ground work created by 'Crouching Tiger' and is an experience that I would encourage you to seek out, as long as you are willing to submit to the film and let it guide you through its world on its own terms.
I viewed this film with high expectations. People were comparing it with Crouching Tiger and I really enjoyed that film. Within the first 10 minutes you understand why the comparisons are made. The cinematography, editing, music and special effects are similar. The stories, however, are quite different, and I found the story to be better than the one in Crouching Tiger.
The story is about an assassin who concocts a plan to kill a king who had been trying to conquer his home land in pre-unified China. His assassination plan requires him to get close enough to the king to strike him dead. The movie shows the assassin's plan through a series of flashbacks, and culminates with the assassin getting his chance to kill the king.
The beauty of this film is the how the assassin becomes a "Hero". I won't spoil how he achieves this, but that is what made the film great for me. It made the film more than just a visual and musical masterpiece. It also made it more than just a Kung Fu picture. It actually added a decent plot to the film which made it worth while. Honestly, I was just expecting a good Kung Fu picture. Hero is actually a great overall movie which just happens to accent the film with some of the best Kung Fu action in recent years.
Definitely the best movie that I have seen this year. I hope it wins big at the awards ceremonies. It was impressive.
I guess we have CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON to thank for making the wu xia world bankable again, and generating the interest and investment required to bring a project of this stature together. There's no doubt that the US Market was a major target, and US$ went into the funding. Given this it's a tragedy that Yimou let Miramax get their paws on it and effectively ruin any chances it had of major US success
Apart from Zhang Ziyi and the Tan Dun soundtrack (a terrible choice no doubt enforced by US investors), CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON is not a good reference point by which to evaluate HERO. Much more appropriate is Wong Kar Wai's ASHES OF TIME, with which it shares two lead actors and a cinematographer. HERO is definitely more commercially oriented, but shares a beauty and philosophical richness with AOT, and a certain melancholy mood.
The story of HERO starts off quite simply, as Jet Li begins to recount his martial triumphs to the Emperor of Qin. The tale is told in flashbacks which revisit and re-evaluate the same events, elaborating on and changing the story as we learn more. It's reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON, and is a great way of developing a mystery thriller. Zhang Yimou handles the building of the tale expertly, as one would expect from such a master film maker.
Zhang Yimou himself is such an accomplished cinematographer he hardly needed to hire somebody else for the job - but if there's anybody better than Yimou it's Christopher Doyle. I wonder how much conflict there was on set though, as I am sure each had very strong visions of how they wanted scenes to look. The result doesn't show any signs of it if such a conflict occured though, as the visual style seems exceptionally strong and focussed throughout. A large part of this is Yimou's use of bold colours to delineate the different sections of the story (The green, the red, the yellow, the blue, the white). With Emil Wada's stunning costumes and the great choice of locations, HERO is almost as rich in stunning imagery as ASHES OF TIME. It's a true work of art, harking back to Yimou's older films like SHANGHAI TRIAD and RAISE THE RED LANTERN - I'm really pleased to see him making such visual films again. The visuals are sometimes let down by some unconvincing CGI effects, unfortunately.
Zhang Yimou has never directed an action movie before, so people were clearly worried he wouldn't know what to do with the fight scenes that a wu xia movie needs more than anything else. It's been quite a few years since Ching Siu Tung has produced any really impressive work too, so I was rather worried - especially when I heard (from good authority) that Yimou had Ching had clashed on set. Apparently Zhang wanted more grounded, realistic kung fu, which really isn't Ching Siu Tung's thing (should have got Sammo or Yuen Wo Ping!). I guess Ching got the upper hand in the end, as the fight scenes are certainly not grounded or realistic - they're very much about the twirling and whirling and the graceful flying that Ching Siu Tung virtually defined. They're not as manic as he usually makes the action when he directs himself, though - a fact that sometimes makes the wirework look a bit awkward.
A real surprise is that the weakest fight scene of the film is that one that pits the two best martial artists together. Jet Li vs. Donnie Yen opens the film with some sword vs. spear action. There's some beautiful moments, but I felt the scene lacked impact and featured some awkward moves too. Oddly enough, the fight I enjoyed the most featured no real martial artistry at all - Maggie Cheung vs (well, you'll see) in a beautiful autumnal scene of falling leaves. I guess that's because Ching Siu Tung is really not working to his strengths when he tries to do "real" martial arts.
I had held off watching HERO for months, because as soon as I got the first released DVD (the DVD-5 from Guang Dong Face Ah) it was announced that the extended version of the film would be released in a few weeks. It's generally well known now that Zhang Yimou was persuaded to cut about 20 minutes from the film by the hatchet men at MiramAXE, who really must die first when the revolution comes. I figured the first time I see it I should see the best possible version, for maximum impact, so I was willing to wait. Well it's been 2 months now and the extended version is now indefinitely delayed due to legal issues, so I finally gave in and watched the DVD I'd had lying around for so long. Now that I've seen it I have to say I don't really see what another 20 minutes would add to the film - it seems quite complete and well paced at about 95 minutes. A little more development of Donnie Yen's character would be nice, but other than that it's hard to imagine what is missing. Longer action scenes maybe? Or perhaps just 20 minutes of Christopher Doyle's beautifully composed landscape shots, or close ups of Maggie Cheung dying.
I'm glad I waited to see the film anyway though, as it allowed all the hype and anticipation to die down. Unfortunately, when a film is as highly anticipated as this it's inevitable that there will be "backlash syndrome" as people feel let down that it wasn't the ultimate movie of all time they heard/hoped it would be (it was amusing to watch the reviews on CROUCHING TIGER swing between "incredible" and "awful" as hype waves ruined the experience for many, and I'm sure the same will happen with HERO).
Zhang Yimou is an extremely talented director in many respects, but perhaps the greatest is his ability to get incredible performances out of his cast. With such an illustrious cast on board he perhaps felt he didn't need to try as much though (or they weren't willing to listen), as the acting isn't as powerful as I had expected. It's still of a very high quality, but doesn't evoke the same strong emotions as some of the performances in ASHES OF TIME. Leung Chiu-Wai gets the top award for acting though, which will surprise few people. Zhang Ziyi only has a small part, but shows a lot of talent too - nice to see such skill in somebody that still has most of her career ahead of her. Of course, it was Zhang Yimou that discovered and nurtured her talent in THE ROAD HOME.
There are only two disappointments in HERO, for me. One is the special effects, which aren't up to the very latest standards. A little less use of CGI would have made it go a lot further (like in CTHD). The other is the soundtrack, which is really just much too similar to the Crouching Tiger soundtrack. It doesn't fit HERO as well, but it is still pretty evocative and effective - just too similar to CTHD.
I still intend to pick up the extended version of HERO when it's released, to see what Zhang Yimou's ideal vision for the film was. Even running shorter than he really wanted it's a mighty fine film though, and one I have no hesitation in recommending if anybody hasn't seen it yet. If MiramAXE ever do get round to releasing it in the US, I hope it does well.
Hero rewrites history's judgment on the movie's central figure, the Emperor Qin a ruthless leader who unified China through the most brutal means by depicting him as a tough but benevolent and misunderstood monarch, in the process also changing the story of the failed assassination attempt on him as well.
The historical Emperor Qin was known for his cruelty. The movie does refer to his practice of slaughtering entire villages. It is silent about the tortures he employed, the draconian legal code that involved the cutting off of limbs, his burning of books and suppression of schools of thought, or such incidents as the burying alive of hundreds of scholars who had objected to his rule.
The reason for the differences between the historical Emperor Qin and the movie's retelling may be found in the needs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Even before unifying China, the then-King of Qin was hated and feared by both rivals and subjects alike. The neighboring state of Yan (replaced with "Zhao" in the movie) knew that the state of Qin aimed eventually to attack. Officials in the Yan kingdom hired an assassin to kill the King of Qin and help them escape imminent defeat. Jing Ke, the man selected for the job, had to find a method to bring himself close to the King to complete his mission. Pan Yuqi was a disgruntled Qin official who had fled to the state of Yan to escape from the King of Qin's tyrannical rule. He so hated the King of Qin that he offered to allow himself to be killed in order that Jing could gain access by bringing his head to the despot. Jing killed him and brought both Pan's head and a map of the state of Yan that the king coveted, hiding in it a dagger with which to assassinate the tyrant.
The King of Qin indeed allowed Jing Ke in his presence, and as the king opened the map offered to him, the assassin deftly procured the knife hidden in the map scroll. Unfortunately, Jing's initial thrust was not strong enough, grazing but not wounding the king. The king was then able to unsheathe his sword and parry any of Jing's successive thrusts. The assassin had no choice but to hurl his weapon at the monarch, but missed. He was later executed.
In Hero, the assassin (played by Jet Li) has the opportunity and the skill to dispatch the King, yet decides against it. After abandoning his decision to kill the king, he is executed, and then buried as a hero.
The Jet Li character is called "Nameless." Nameless chooses loyalty, and his own death, after a long conversation with the King of Qin. The king asserts that Nameless's quest is only negative, he acts out of hatred and revenge. He reveals that he himself is misunderstood, that the king's strength is used for the sake of unifying a great Chinese nation, a nation that will comprise "everything under heaven" (this crucial phrase was translated in English as "our land").
Like the Emperor Qin, Mao Zedong, upon winning the civil war against Chiang Kai Sheik, unified China. Mao was an open admirer of the Qin Emperor. This often-hated emperor came to be seen as a symbol for the Communist Party.
Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has used China's state controlled media to make the claim that the Communist Party exists for the sake of a great and unified China. Love of China and love of the Party are conflated, and love of China is taught to be of supreme importance.
Zhang's movie fits the CCP script very neatly. It appropriates China's history, its founding moment, the unification by the Emperor Qin, and uses that history to teach the very same lessons that CCP has taught: the need to give up individual claims (what we today call rights) for the sake of a great and powerful China under the rule of a strong leader (the CCP).
The leaders of the CCP wish the viewers of the movie to forget some other parallels with the Emperor of Qin. Similar to the Qin Emperor, the People's Republic of China is one of the most brutal and reviled governments in the world. Just as the Emperor of Qin suppressed Confucianism and persecuted those who objected to his rule, the CCP persecutes and tortures all of those with views and beliefs differing from the Party, including Falun Gong practitioners, house Christians, Uigher Muslims, union organizers, and democracy activists.
Overall, I didn't think the story was that appealing except for the good message at the end, about the good of all being more important than satisfying one's personal vengeance. Well, who could argue with that? As for the rest, perhaps being a Westerner unfamiliar with Eastern culture, it's harder for me to relate to the mind-set. I would be interested to know how Asians viewed this story, as opposed to similar films.
Sometimes I think these wild Crouching Tiger-like action scenes are too long and overdone, but at least in this film they were very original and, once again, more visuals feasts than anything else. On my second viewing, I discarded the subtitles and went with the dubbed version to concentrate more on the stunning look of this film. It paid off. Even if I don't quite follow everything, each scene is such eye-candy that you can't go wrong viewing this.
Kurosawa is here obviously in the story: it is half 'Rashomon' and half 'Ran.' But more important is Kurosawa's theory of film as a device to capture space. As with Parisian impressionist painters, the thing painted is not the point. It provides an origin only; the painting is about all the magical things that happen in the space between the subject and the viewers eye. The paintings, and Kurosawa's films are about that space.
Kurosawa invented the technique of shooting from very far away with a telephoto so as to flatten space, and at the same time creating (usually three) layers of space. Often, he would engage the space directly.
This masterful film is obsessive about the point and may be the most lush swim in dimensional space you are likely to find with the technology we have. Every shot is oriented around not the action, but the space that contains the action. Falling water, dust, lots of blown fabric and hair, feathers, arrows, even book tablets and those leaves! With lots of bamboo screens, all these are used to show the space, plus the usual fantastic mountains, clouds and forests - even at the end the Great Wall and of course the moving waves of soldiers and courtiers.
Many of the architectural shots are lifted from Welles' "Othello."
The matter is not lost in the copious allusions to mental space: the game of Go, music, calligraphy, politics, and love. All these are defined, exercised and conflated with one another in terms of space and the intrigue of space with a little more effort in the latter items on the list. Then, waving lamps are used to make 'murderous intent' spatial.
Unlike 'Crouching Tiger' which this resembles not at all, the camera is static, not dancing. Where Lee emphasized the ballet of the fight by engaging his camera, Zhang stands back in the space. Where Lee conceives fights not among the participants but their masters, Zhang shows us not the fights, but the battles among the true worlds of the fights - the worlds of different colors.
What we see could be the imaged Go game, or the imaged fight within it, or the imaged story Nameless tells, or the one the King tells and on and on with nestings of imaginations.
Every nation creates their own movie to explain themselves. We in the US seem to like more militarist stuff. Except for the thuggish motive (my war for my kind of peace), we would do well to have stories about stories like this one through four layers until they reflect back on the origin. Complex story space in rich real space.
If you are going to see this, you really must see 'In the Mood for Love,' which features Broken Sword and Flying Snow in something of the same relationship they have here. It is one of the best films ever made and truly spatial in a purely Chinese manner. It will completely transform your enjoyment of this.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.