Director: Yimou Zhang
Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung

Reviewer: James Thornbury

The comparisons with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are inevitable. A westernised martial arts film, making extensive use of wirework and CGI to tell an epic story set in the ancient past of China? Hasn’t this already been done, and done well?

Yes, so let’s just get it out of the way and admit that Hero is quite like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, except it’s better. Better, more convincing use of wirework for over the top fights, better acting, better story, better score, better cinematography and even a better Zhang Ziyi (who played the lead in the aforementioned film, having a somewhat minor role in Hero).

Hero is an epic tale set two thousand years in the past, amid the warring provinces of ancient China. It chronicles the arrival of a nameless ‘hero’ (Jet Li) in the court of Qin, where he meets with the Emperor of the kingdom (Chen Daoming) and explains how he succeeded in killing three dangerous assassins who had previously threatened the life of the sovereign. The majority of the movie thus unfolds in flashback format, retelling the meetings that Nameless – as he is called – had with each of the warriors. In the fashion of all good stories, however, all is not as it seems.

Star of the show is undoubtedly the assassin Broken Sword (Tony Leung), who gives a far more emotional, convincing performance than I honestly expected. This is not to downplay the theatrical skills of the others. Considering him alongside Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), Sky (Donnie Yen), Moon (Zhang Ziyi) and the aforementioned Nameless and Emperor Qin, their interactions make for beautiful, compelling cinema, justifying the entry price even before taking in the breathtaking fights.

However, I find that the best way to judge a film is to invite my Dad along to see it, since he’s a very fine balance against my pretension.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“All that ‘mystic mountain’ stuff was a bit [weird]... but it was good.”

So there you go.