Friday, September 10, 2004

The Hero Sucks (Not "stunning," not "stirring," not "ravishing"...)

The Hero was really hard for me to stomach. It has several major annoyances, no logical dramatic movement, and a wretchedly jingoistic theme (genocide is acceptable in the interest of national unity).

Physically, the film is hard to listen to, especially if you see it in a big multiplex where the volume is up loud. The sound track during the fights is full of the sound of swishing and clinking swords, mixed very high to sound "big." But as I as watched the film the other night, the sound during the fights often felt more like nails on a chalboard than magical Chinese swordplay. I had to cover my ears.

So: bring your earplugs.

The visual aspects of the fight sequences aren't all that good either. There is a very beautiful swordfight at the beginning of the film, and the famous sequence on a lake is also cool as a feat of cinematography (though it doesn't register as a "serious" fight). But many of the fights are fluffy. The kind of rigorous physical engagement that has become a trademark of Yuen Wo-Ping (who did the fight choreography for The Matrix and Kill Bill) is often absent here. The fights involving women were especially fluffy -- as if Zhang Yimou and Tony Ching Siu Tung (the action director) didn't want to put their actresses to any trouble. Instead of asking them to hold swords (all of the characters in the film are sword-fighters and professional warrior-assasins), they have them flying through the air in billowing red gowns as bright yellow (paper) leaves magically gust. It's pretty, but it's not compelling.

When the characters aren't fighting, the film is incredibly, unbelievably, dull.

Oh and did I mention the fascist moral of the story? It's so repulsive, I feel I should go back to earlier Yimou films like Raise the Red Lanterna and Ju Dou to see if American movie reviewers were on crack when those came out too. Like many critics, when I was younger I tended to accept anything "exotic" as inherently valuable. I spoke in earnest tones about the great Chinese directors, Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, and Chen Kaige (Farewell my Concubine, Temptress Moon).

But with age comes an important lesson: the fact that a film is exotic doesn't preclude the possibility that it is crap.


Kerim Friedman said...

His earlier films were beautiful, but offensive. Your typical developing world country's problems mapped on to the oppression of a woman's body meme. I saw some Hindi movies from the 70s that were the same. The woman is a symbol for the plight of the country - getting raped and abused so that we can all feel for the oppression of the mother land. Zhang did this better than just about anyone else - but it was the same story nonetheless. About the only film of his I really liked was his neorealist "Not one less" based on the true story of a young girl put in charge of a rural school. It has a bit of a "made for TV" feel to it, but there is something genuine in the story that is appealing. On the other hand, Zhang was supposedly pressured by Miramax, who funded this film, to cut out a lot of the film - even for the Chinese language release. I think there is already a director's cut!

I haven't bothered to see Hero after all the bad things my friends said about it, but if you want to see a truly great film go watch Shaolin Soccer on DVD!

7:12 PM  
Kerim Friedman said...

Here is an interesting discussion of Nationalism in Hero.

10:09 AM  
feistyrallygirl said...

first, there is logical dramatic movement; however, if one is expecting an epic, this film doesn't fit the bill.

i think your comments on the sound are quite a bizarre impression in my opinion. i found the swordplay and the clink of metal/wood/flesh to be romantic. there is a bittersweetness to the sound of two swords perfectly aligned in a battle.

you say, "There is a very beautiful swordfight at the beginning of the film, and the famous sequence on a lake is also cool as a feat of cinematography (though it doesn't register as a "serious" fight)."

you're correct on the first. the second fight is misunderstood. it wasn't intended to be serious. it was done in honor to save face but no one was intended to die. the beauty of the fight hints at the old cinematic productions of puppetry and fighting.

it's not a kill bill kind of film. it's not intended to be pulp. actually, the women did hold swords during their fight. the leaves were emblematic of fallen snow's name and her use of the wind to fight. it is a beautiful scene in which nature is compelled to be the weapon.

you conveniently forget that a film doesn't have to be historically accurate to be entertainment, nor does a lack of historical correctness imply the film is poorly directed.

i thought the film was classic Zhang. it is a rich tapestry of color and movement. typical of Chinese storytelling, there were multiple tales that are nearly Tarantino-esque in the re-telling. the color was eloquent. without it, the story would have been dull.

the plot didn't call for humor or surprise twists of fate... if anything, what was present could only be called dark comedy. the film wasn't full of surprising twists. here's where it gets tricky because Zhang is very good at writing for a specific audience. he entirely succeeds.

regardless of Miramax's intervention, it was an excellent film.

12:12 PM  

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