Hero (PG-13)

There is artistry to film making we Americans just don’t seem to get. Hollywood doesn’t get it because they are constantly worried about demographics and the bottom line and the general public doesn’t get it because as consumers we seek out mindless forms of entertainment.

I mean, how else do you explain the huge success of “Home Alone” and “Titanic?” A lady once told me, “Movies are for entertainment. Period. There’s nothing artistic about them.”

I beg to differ. If we disassembled all that goes into any given film, examining each of its individual parts-photography, choreography, the written word, orchestration, musical performance, acting, etc.-we’d come to the realization that separately, each part is commonly regarded as an art form. For instance, most people would consider a Broadway play to be art. Shakespearean acting is always construed as artistic, as are the plays he so eloquently scripted. We view exhibits displaying photographic works; we pay money to watch a choreographed ballet and to hear the symphony. When we emerge we can just feel the culture pulsing through our veins because, after all, what we just experienced was art! For some reason, when it comes to film, we’d rather watch a bratty Macaulay Culkin running around the house with his mouth agape, screaming like a banshee, with his hands pressed against his cheeks.

Query: if the individual parts are considered artistic why not the sum of its parts? Why not the whole? A film blends all these separate art forms together into one creation. Shouldn’t that creation have artistic merit?

“Hero” reminds us of what film making can and ought to be-a work of art. Oddly enough, “Hero” was nominated as best foreign film a couple years ago under the name “Ying Xiong,” but I guess Miramax didn’t consider it marketable. In fact, they had Quentin Tarantino “present” the film in NY and LA, thus leading to the common misconception that he had something to do with the making of this film. On the contrary, “Hero” is so masterfully crafted it puts most big-time Hollywood directors to shame. Director Zhang Yimou paints every scene like a delicate Picasso. Only for him celluloid is the canvas. Hero is an epic martial arts feature but Yimou refuses to turn it into a splatter-fest of gore the way a certain American director probably would, had he truly been attached to the project.

The images captured by cinematographer Christopher Doyle are nothing short of breathtaking. “Hero” targets the lust of our eyes with complicated color schemes, lavish scenery, stylish costumes, extravagant sets, exotic beautiful faces, and hundreds (if not thousands) of extras not to mention CGI-candy by the truckload.

Hero takes place in China’s most fabled era, just prior to the unification of the land under on kingdom and prior the construction of The Great Wall somewhere between 230 and 221BC. Interestingly enough, some of the leading players in Hero are reasonably well known here in the states-Jet Li (“Lethal Weapon 4”), Donnie Yen (“Shanghai Knights”), Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” & “Rush Hour 2”). Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung (the forthcoming “Clean”) are beginning their trek across the ocean as well. Their stoic performances are either in keeping with the story, or the genre, I’m not too sure which, probably both.

“Hero” suffers from a lack of depth, both in story and character. The manner by which the story unfolds is rather ingenious if not essential because five minutes into the film most moviegoers will understand exactly why Nameless (Jet Li) sits before King Qin (Chen Daoming). How he got there becomes a matter of perspective. In four acts we see the lie, the supposition, the reality, and the finality, each hewn from the mind of the teller. This unique rendering gives an otherwise shallow tale a plot twist or two. With the focus centered primarily on visual stimuli the intensity of the pivotal relationships within the film remains largely unexplored and perhaps the greatest crime of all is that Zhang Ziyi’s many talents are so limited in the film.

However, these shortcomings cannot negate the achievements of this film. I hope more American directors, including Tarantino, will take note and remember that their job is essentially this-to take many forms of art and pull them all together into one major work of art. Unfortunately, the tendency is to take all that art and reduce to garbage.

Overall “Hero” will take my MATINEE rating. Artistically it’s a home run but story-wise it’s strictly bush-league material. Regardless, “Hero” and “Napoleon Dynamite” are a cut above everything else out right now.

From a Christian Perspective (Warning! Possible Spoilers Ahead!):

Themes include honor, duty, and sacrifice. Nameless is a character with an open mind willing to do what is best for his country no matter what that means. Several characters in the film are willing to lay down their lives for what they believe in and some do. While “Hero” is a Samurai film, it contains absolutely zero gore. There is violence but the choreography of the action sequences is exquisitely beautiful. There is a sexual scene in the movie, phonically graphic because it is shot in an obscure way, jump-cutting away from anything too revealing. And, as it turns out, the scene never even happened anyway. Hero is a fairly clean PG-13.