Friday, June 17, 2005


I watched Zhang Yimou’s Hero yesterday. Certain words leap to mind: beautiful, gorgeous, spectacular… you’ll look up the rest of the synonyms, won’t you, because they all apply.

This is a visual feast set in China during the Warring States period, where seven kingdoms fought for dominance. The ruler of Qin (Chen Dao Ming) is by far the most powerful and also the one most under threat by a barrage of assassins. Warrior Nameless (Jet Li) arrives at the palace with news that he has vanquished three of the king’s most deadly enemies: Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). He is granted audience but must stay at least a 100 paces from the king or be killed. As he gives the king a blow by blow account of how he dismantled the fearsome three, he is allowed closer and closer…
Finally with the warrior ten paces from him, the king realises his mistake: he is being lied to. Remarkably unflustered, he supplies his version of what must have taken place. Nameless admits it and then proceeds to tell him what really happened.

Like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and several other offerings in Asian cinema, this one is from the marital arts-as-ballet genre. Episodic, and Rashomon-like with its many versions of the same event, Hero is sumptuously visual. Both controlled and extravagant, each episode is bathed in a chosen set of colours. Red and ochre, purple and blue, green, white…
When Nameless first meets Sky, he does so in a Go house, with rain falling and an old man plucking the strings of some divine instrument. As the drops fall on the Go board, Nameless and Sky stand facing each other listening to the music, frozen but battling in their minds. I thought that must be my favourite sequence till I came to when Broken Sword and Nameless pirouette and clash swords over the waters of a lake enclosed by verdant mountains. The water drop, sweet God, the water drop.

Several years ago, I put down China on my list of places to visit before pack up. I’ve now moved it several places higher. Another resolution: explore Tan Dun, composer/conductor. He’s why it would be unfair to call Hero purely visual.

And Samanth, for doing such a good job of recommending it, thanks. Hero should be aired again on Star Movies. Watch it, people.

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