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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
ONE MEMBER OF A FEARSOME TRIO: Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) practices her martial arts techniques in preparation for her assasination attempt, which was foiled by Nameless, on the life of the warlord King of Qin.
end caption.

"Hero" (Ying Xiong): Fanciful Costume Drama Recounts Launch of First Chinese Dynasty

Review by Kam Williams

At the start of the Third Century B.C., China was divided into seven separate feudal kingdoms, Zhao, Han, Wei, Qi, Yan, Chu, and Qin. Following decades of warfare, the country became mired in internal strife, known as the Warring States Period.

One warlord, the King of Qin (Daoming Chen), stood the best chance of conquering all the other provinces and declaring himself Emperor. However, the tyrant needed to eliminate his enemies, especially three feared assassins: Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), Sky (Donnie Yen), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung).

According to legend, the King promised an audience and a mountain of gold to anyone who could slay these three enemies. After more than ten years, Nameless, a peasant (Jet Li), claimed to have slain them and was summoned to the royal palace, bearing the three assassins' weapons as proof.

Positioning himself a mere ten steps from the King, the hero begins to recount a convoluted tale of love, honor, jealousy, and betrayal whose final chapter is about to be written. The suspicious leader can only determine the veracity of the yarn-spinner's exploits by listening to the entire, often contradictory, account of events.

This is the intriguing point of departure of Hero, a fable set against the backdrop of the unification of China which resulted in the creation of the Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C. The movie, which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2003, has just been released in the States. It was written and directed by Zhang Yimou, who also received an Oscar nomination in 1992 for Raise the Red Lantern, a historical drama set in China.

Mr. Yimou paints with a palette of brilliant colors to create the most visually captivating cinematic experience of the year. Replete with breathtaking Mongolian desert panoramas, ancient temple locales, elaborate costumes, carefully-choreographed martial arts, and a cast of thousands; nonetheless, the production suffers from an elliptical storyline.

Hero is reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because of its pageantry and otherworldly sense of magic, but it fails to engage the audience emotionally. In fact, Hero's narrative and character development is so weak, that in spite of its dazzling, mesmerizing, ravishing, and sumptuous imagery, Shakespeare might have deemed it "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5).

Good (2 stars). Rated PG-13 for stylized martial arts violence and one scene of sensuality. In Mandarin with subtitles.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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