Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen, Liu Zhong Yuan, Zheng Tia Yong, Yan Qin
Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang
Master filmmaker Quentin Tarantino presents Hero - starring martial arts legend Jet Li in a visually stunning martial arts epic where a fearless warrior rises up to defy an empire and unite a nation! With supernatural skill ... and no fear ... a nameless soldier (Jet Li) embarks on a mission of revenge against the fearsome army that massacred his people. Now, to achieve the justice he seeks, he must take on the empire's most ruthless assassins and reach the enemy he has sworn to defeat! Acclaimed by critics and honored with numerous awards, Hero was nominated for both an Oscar® (2002 Best Foreign Language Film) and a Golden Globe!
$18.004 million on 2031 screens.
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 99 min.
Release Date: 9/15/2009
• "Hero Defined": A Look At The Epic Masterpiece
• Soundtrack Spot
• "Inside the Action": A Conversation with Quentin Tarantino & Jet Li
• Digital Copy
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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Hero [Blu-Ray] (2004)
Reviewed by Brian Ludovico (Original Review) / Colin Jacobson (September 18, 2009)
Hero begins 2000 years ago, with a lone man on his way to visit with the King of China’s Qin province during the height of the warring states period. The King has been leading a bloody campaign trying to unite the whole of China and bring peace to the county, and his aggressive tactics aren’t exactly a big hit with the entire population.
As such, the King has been constantly under threat of assassination, surviving multiple attempts over the last decade. The problem has gotten so bad that no one is allowed within 100 paces of the royal throne, under penalty of immediate execution.
The stranger - a man known only as Nameless (Jet Li) - has evidence to present to the king that will prove to him that he has nothing left to fear. He’s brought with him the weapons of the three deadliest assassins in all of China: the spear of Sky and the swords of Broken Sword and Flying Snow. As an honor for his amazing service to his royal highness, Nameless is invited to an audience, and allowed to advance to within twenty paces. His majesty is so impressed by the news that he asks Nameless to recount the tale of his victory, to tell him how this one local prefect accomplished what hundreds of thousands of Qin soldiers could not.
Nameless tells the king first of his defeat of the spear-wielding Sky (Donnie Yen) at the House of Chess. After Sky dispatches with the seven elite guards of the royal palace sent to arrest him, Nameless makes his own attempt. The two fight an epic duel, until finally, the speed of Nameless’s sword is just too much for Sky, and he succumbs. As one might expect, this impresses the king even more, hearing it first hand. After rewarding Nameless with riches and power, the King entreats him to come another ten paces closer, and tell him the tale of the defeat of the lethal partners, Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai).
It’s in the retelling of the defeat of the two assassins who have come closest to murdering the king that we first see the artistic device that director Zhang Zhimou employs to emphasize the structure of Hero: color themes. Nameless’ story is filmed with everything in red, from the clothes to the wood to the ink at the calligraphy school. At first glance, this would appear to just be a cool visual indulgence, when in fact, it’s a signal. Nameless’ story, as the King figures out, is a lie, at least the story about Flying Snow and Broken Sword.
From here, the film takes on a structure reminiscent of Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon. The king has his own theory on what happened between Nameless and the two infamous Zhao assassins, and his story is told in a blue tint. Nameless listens attentively, and when the king finishes his story, he tells the king the truth about what happened, this time in white. The final layer contains a flashback to the initial attempt on the King’s life, told in green.
While Hero is certainly not in the same class as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it’s nonetheless a gripping and entertaining film with a bevy of aspects to appreciate. In American minds, the action of the Wu Xia films is almost invariably the action. I’ll admit it, the reason I went to see Crouching Tiger was because I wanted to see some serious kick-ass karate. I walked out as impressed as I did, convinced that the movie should win the Oscar for Best Picture, because of the amazing performances and incredibly emotional story.
Hero features many of the same strengths, starting with Jet Li. In American movies, there’s no other word for him but awful. His charisma and emotions are far more evident in a Chinese language film, as is to be expected. I loved the combination of serenity and simmering rage with which he played Nameless.
For me, the real added “oomph” to Hero that separates it from the pack is the love story of Broken Sword and Flying Snow. Like the story of Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai, it’s largely played out as courtly love, nobly loving each other from afar, with intimacy only hinted at. Their eyes and words are the only real signs of love, pride, pain and anger that these two characters reveal to each other, and to the audience.
The delicate emotional balance this sort of relationship requires to make it believable onscreen are among the biggest challenges for actors. Thankfully, Maggie Cheung and Tony Lieung Chu Wai are both up to the task. By the time their arc comes to its close in the final moments of the film, I was crying, which I didn’t do during Crouching Tiger.
Hero is also one of the most visually striking movies I’ve seen in a long time. The color work is only part of the artistry of the film. Yimou will mention in the featurette that one of his goals was to really burn images into the viewer’s minds, so that in five or ten years, even if the viewer doesn’t remember the story, they remember a scene or an image. His mission is certainly accomplished as some of the most indelible and delicious screen shots in the last ten years are on display here. The scenes in the Golden Forest, or at the Mirror Lake, or Nameless’s exit from the palace, or the stark and brutal desert will all stay with the viewer long after the film is over.
Of course, it would be negligent to leave the action sequences of Hero out of any discussion. The film features no less than eight outstanding fight sequences, all designed and choreographed by fight film luminary Tony Ching Siu-Ting. Each of the tales features at least one of the fights, which makes for fantastic pacing for the narrative between the action spots. Make no mistake, if it’s high-flying kung fu and jaw-dropping swordplay you’re after, Hero is certain to satisfy.
The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus C
Hero appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though some aspects of the movie looked great, inconsistencies knocked it down to a “B-“.
Virtually all of these related to sharpness. While the film usually looked concise and accurate, wide shots tended to be erratic. Some looked rock-solid, but others displayed moderate softness. Those concerns weren’t extreme, but the image failed to display the kind of consistent detail I expect from Blu-ray. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement remained absent. In terms of print defects, the movie exhibited a clean presentation. Grain stayed within normal levels, though a fight in the “green” section of the movie looked a little grainier than the rest. No specks, marks or other flaws developed.
The film used some very stylized tones, and all satisfied; blues and yellows worked best. Hotter tones like reds and purples were also positive, though, and colors consistently appeared pleasing. Blacks looked dark and tight, though, and shadows showed nice clarity. Though I liked much of what I saw, the problems with sharpness were enough to drop my grade to a “B-“.
Normally when I review a Blu-ray, I assess the quality of the disc’s lossless audio. In the case of Hero, I made an exception. Its only lossless option came from an English dub of the film. I doubt that most fans of Hero really want to watch it with looped dialogue, so I opted to critique the Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 mix found here.
The soundfield worked pretty well, though it wasn’t quite as dazzling as one might expect from such an over the top action flick. At times, the soundscape opened up and engulfed us in the action. It usually did so in a positive manner, though I felt the effects could be somewhat “speaker specific” and they didn’t always blend as smoothly as I’d like.
Surround usage also seemed a bit inconsistent. While some big scenes offered good use of the back speakers, others concentrated on the front channels to a surprisingly heavy degree. Don’t get me wrong: the overall impact of the audio satisfied. However, the expectations that came with this sort of tale meant that “pretty good” wasn’t terribly impressive. This was a more than satisfactory soundfield but not one that stood out as exceptional.
Audio quality was always nice. Music showed the best reproduction, as the score consistently sounded full and lush. Effects offered good clarity as well; given the amped up nature of the production, I couldn’t call them “realistic”, but they exhibited solid definition and verve. Speech was natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. In the end, the movie boasted pleasing audio.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray version of Hero compare to those of the Special Edition DVD? Audio seemed to literally be the same. Since I didn’t review the DTS-HD MA mix, that meant I compared what appeared to be literally identical Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.
While those mixes were the same, the visuals showed differences. I thought the DVD was fine given that format’s limitations, but it still could seem soft, and colors were inconsistent. The Blu-ray eliminates many of the concerns I experienced with the DVD. Though still soft at times, it tightened up DVD’s visuals and offered more dynamic hues. While the DVD worked fine for what it could be, the Blu-ray clearly topped it.
Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here. Close-Up of a Fight Scene runs nine minutes, 18 seconds and includes notes from filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and actors Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi. Despite the title, the show actually looks at three different fight sequences from the film. That means we don’t get much time for any of them. Some interesting notes emerge along with some good footage from the set, but the featurette’s too brief to be meaningful.
A featurette entitled Hero Defined lasts 24 minutes and provides remarks from Li, Cheung, Leung, Ziyi, Yen, director/producer Zhang Yimou, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, composer/conductor Tan Dun, action director Tony Ching Siu-Tung, and actor Chen Dao Ming. “Defined” looks at the movie’s story, themes and goals, visual design and music, locations and shooting logistics, action sequences, and locations and challenges. “Defined” comes with a fairly promotional feel, but that doesn’t mean it fails to deliver any useful material. We learn a reasonable amount here, though probably not as much as I’d like for a 24-minute piece.
In addition to a soundtrack spot, we find a collection of storyboards. These cover four of the film’s sequences: “Golden Forest” (0:55), “Library” (0:17), “Ring of Iron” (1:20) and “Lake” (2:49). They run side by side with the finished film, and it shows how close Yimou’s original vision was to the final print.
On a second disc, we find a Digital Copy of Hero. As usual, this allows you to transfer the movie to a computer or portable viewing device. Go for it!
Oddly, the Blu-ray loses one component from the DVD: a featurette with a chat between Tarantino and Li. Even more oddly, the Blu-ray case claims it appears, though the box doesn’t mention “Hero Defined”.
Among the Wu Xia, Hero is one that stands out as particularly memorable. The performances are great, the story is interesting, and the narrative structure is fresh if not entirely original. The Blu-ray provides inconsistent but usually satisfactory visuals, very good audio, and some minor extras. This isn’t a great release; the picture is a little too soft, and the absence of substantial extras or lossless original audio disappoints. However, it undoubtedly gives fans the highest quality US home video version of the film. If Hero is really important to you, this will be the one you want.
To rate this film, visit the original review of HERO