Hero is a visually stunning fairy tale of ancient Chinese Imperial power. Wonderfully directed by Zhang and brilliantly filmed by Australian cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, Hero combines lavish visual poetics and whimsical elegy to tell the story of an Emperor, his assassins and their operatic battles.
At its base, the story is one of simple intrigue, told through a series of overlapping flashbacks. The "hero' called Nameless (Li) describes to the King of Qin (Chen) how he has successfully dispatched the three great assassins who had once threatened his reign. If you wanted, you could argue the story is predictable and its plot twists simplistic.
But the story is beside the point.
Colour, costumes and visual imagination are the stars of the production. Visually, the film is utterly arresting. Whether Nameless is battling through the syncopated rhythms of rainfall on a Go board, whirling dervishly against the endless dunes of a desert backdrop, or dodging a swarms of arrows within the screened walls of a calligraphy school, the images of battle as ballet are mesmerizing. We have certainly seen the slow-motion, hidden-wire fight scenes before in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix but never against backdrops so subtly hued and beautifully rendered.
I suspect this film would be wonderful even without the sub-titles.
Harden Grace is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.