Hong Kong Cinema


  • Made: 2002
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: Region 3 NTSC
  • Release Date: March 21, 2003
  • Company: EDKO
  • Length: 98 mins
  • Picture: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Sound: Dolby 5.1, Dolby DTS
  • Language: Mandarin with English Subtitles
  • Extras: Trailers, Music Video, Featurettes
  • Classification: IIA


Zhang Yimou


Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Chen Dao Ming , Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen


After several respectable, if slightly unexceptional, years in Hollywood Jet Li once again returns to what he does best as the Hero of Zhang Yimou's martial arts epic. Assembling an outstanding A-list class, the prospect of Jet Li in Hero is mouth-watering. The hype that Hero has received can only be compared to the frenzy generated by the recent re-mastering of the entire Shaw Brothers catalogue. For although Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a huge international success, it was also a Western produced vehicle and lacked the trappings of a bona fide martial arts movie. With Hero there is a new hope, a new breath of life into a genre that had been all but destroyed by the pin-up CGI fusion craze that had borne Stormriders and co. In Jet Li and Donnie Yen we have the 90's most electrifying martial artists squaring off once again after their previous epic encounter in Once Upon A Time China 2. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung return to the world of wuxia after their previous outings in the superb Swordsman series. Zhang Ziyi plays a credible support after her ill-advised cameo in Rush Hour 2. Hollywood has enough Asian bimbos who can play one-dimensional villains (see Lucy Liu or any episode of Martial Law), and there is no doubt that Ziyi revels in roles with greater depth and sincerity.



Jet Li plays Nameless, a minor official in the province of Qin . He holds audience with the King by killing three of the King's potential assassins; Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Sky (Donnie Yen) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). In Jet's audience with the King (Chen Dao Ming), he recounts how he defeated the three assassins. This retrospective storytelling is hugely popular in Western movies, but is a technique that has seldom been used in the martial arts genre. Even though the film has the look and feel of a classic wuxia film, the story seems to owe a huge debt to Kurosawa's Rashamon. As the dialogue with the King develops, it becomes clear that Jet's story is not pure truth, but only one of several interpretations that we are offered. The story contrasts the pain of individual tragedy and sacrifice against the need to peace and unity for 'All under Heaven'.



This film will always be remembered as one of the most visually remarkable films to come out of China. The film's use of colour is particularly striking. The colour of the set, costumes and filters are linked to the moods and significance of the scene. In the retrospective segments white, blue, red or green dominates the scene. This reliance on colour and atmosphere in complemented by a vast and beautiful set (captured brilliantly by Christopher Doyle). The huge numbers of military extras will certainly appeal to those who enjoyed Tai Chi Master, Burning Paradise or Blood Brothers. What takes Hero one step further is the variety and beauty of the locations used on the shoot. Many martial arts films have been plagued by the lack of adequate landscape, especially in Hong Kong . Similar to Dragon Gate Inn (1992), Hero goes beyond its national borders, including the stunning woodland encounter between Moon (Zhang Ziyi) and Flying Snow that was shot in Mongolia .


In the true tradition of wuxia movies the action in Hero is weapons based, with Jet once again performing with the sword. Jet's encounter with Donnie at the beginning of the movie remains a high point for the martial arts purist (something painfully missing in Crouching Tiger). The rest of the cast are capable, rather than exceptional on-screen martial artists, but Jet adds electricity to all of his action sequences. The sequences in Hero are best described as 'wire-fu' but the lack of genuine martial arts is more than compensated by the sets. There is also an element of CGI in Hero, but this is delicately handled and enhances the action rather than detracting from it. Something also needs to be mentioned for the use of arrows in Hero. This weapon rarely features in most martial arts movies, but in Hero they are used as a symbol of ultimate military might. The final encounter pits the individual swordsman against a cloud of arrows, and once again demonstrates the might of many.


The EDKO 2-disc version of Hero features a clean and crisp anamorphic version of the movie and DTS surround sound. Perhaps surprisingly, this region 3 release actually has a good set of subtitles without the amateurish grammatical errors that most versions are plagued with. This film runs at 98 minutes, which is the correct theatrical release length, although there is a 10 minute longer version available. The extras disc is pleasant enough rather than exceptional, and includes several features that are in Chinese only. There is also a hidden section that can be unlocked by pressing '5' on your DVD remote?! However, the 2-disc version is worth hunting down for a few pounds more than the single disc.


Zhang Yimou's Hero is the finest martial arts movie since Jet Li's Fist of Legend (1994), but then again there haven't been many too choose from in the past 10 years. It is a beautiful and well-crafted epic that is flawless in nearly all aspects (credit reserved for action choreographers Chin Siu-Tung and Stephen Tung Wai and cinematographer Christopher Doyle) . The martial arts junkie in me probably wishes that Donnie Yen had a bigger part, but this urge was kept in check by the breath-taking scenery and set. Although Miramax are doing their incompetent best to ensure that this film will never be a huge international success, it is still a new dawn for wire-fu and period epics. Hero combines shrewd storytelling with action sequences that further explore and develop the characters. Both Jackie Chan and Lau Kar Leung have repeatedly proved critics wrong who have declared they are beyond their sell by date, Hero shows that Jet Li and Donnie Yen are still both more than capable of spearheading a revival of a genre that has been dormant rather than dead.