"How swift thy sword."
This reviewer has never been a fan of Asian cinema, and Hero is a film that further solidifies my neutral attitude towards film exports from Asian countries.
The film is seemingly inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. Like Akira's film, I found Hero to suffer from the same flaws. First of all, the filmmakers poorly distinguish what is occurring on the screen. The script is filled with convoluted lines of dialogue that don't appear to advance the plot very much at all. The movie appeared to be a random selection of action scenes that don't make a lick of sense. Even when I paid 100% attention I was frustrated at the film's difficult nature. Some say it's just the nature of the Asian filmmakers. If this is the case then I'd take a Hollywood film over an Asian production any day.
The script underwent extensive rewrites over the course of several months during pre-production. Makes me wonder why the script was nothing more than cryptic dialogue that didn't make any sense at all in the long run. Maybe it will improve with repeated screenings.
Hero is also an incredibly boring film. I generally appreciate slow paced films; I just prefer them when I can understand what is going on. Perhaps it's my maturity or taste in films, but even mindless action films are easier to understand and hence better quality. All in all, with such a convoluted script this was a wasted opportunity. If the script was dropped into Hollywood's lap there would have been some discernable dialogue.
Set in ancient China, Hero tells the story of a nameless warrior (Li) who has been tracking three assassins who have threatened the life of the king on several occasions. When news reaches the palace that the warrior has defeated all the assassins he is summoned before the king to tell his tale. This plot comes from reading the back cover because I didn't pick up any plot at all.
If a character is telling his story why can't there be more narration to remind the audience what is happening? I was none the wiser until I read the back cover of the DVD I rented. You know there's a problem when absolutely no lines of dialogue make sense, even during action scenes.
Fortunately the film's limited list of redeeming features includes the action scenes. Now these were dazzling and a real visual feast. But they weren't without issues: slow motion does not look cool in my eyes. At all! It looks contrived and distracting. With the film stocking a good supply of slow motion shots I was not happy. Still, the moves are very impressive at times. Another thing about the action scenes: some of the moves are just far too over-the-top. Fighting while hovering over water? Maybe enthusiasts of Asian cinema will find something that makes sense during those scenes. Some of the action is obvious wire-work and it's infinitely distracting!
The cinematography, locations, production design, props and costumes all look gorgeous. For the most part I was impressed with the visuals as the film is overflowing with colourful imagery.
Hero is a typical piece of fluffy cinema courtesy of Asian filmmakers. If you like the works of Akira Kurosawa or films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon then I'm sure you'll be enthralled. Hero is strictly for those who are fans of the genre. The film is convoluted, confusing, poorly written but executed impressively. I can't stress that enough.