(Zhang Yimou, 2002) Hero is the Platonic ideal of the Chinese martial arts epic. Its simple fable is made grand by its cast of thousands, sweeping pans and flights of Wuxia. It features all the familiar faces but one: Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Donny Yen, and the now ubiquitous Zhang Ziyi. Yet its famous art direction gives Hero a definition other epics lack; Zhang’s decision to section scenes off by color imbues the film with a superadded dreamlike blur. Hero is a story before anything, conceived in the surreal tinges which imagination lends to such things, its events story-told by a nameless swordsman (Li) to an indulgent ruler (Chen Daoming). Zhang allows certain moments to yawn, pacing his epic the way we pace our thoughts, which are sometimes quiet and sometimes frenzied. But those moments never take us out of the narrative, which is seamless, and the changing color palette brands the action scenes so deep into memory that Hero prevails as a martial arts movie more so than a love story (which it fundamentally is). Every fan has her favorite choreographic tableau: red scriptorum, white archive, blue pond. Mine’s always been the tableau of green silk banners falling like water around swordplay. — Ranylt Richildis

(Originally published as part of In Review Online’s The 100 Best Films of the Decade feature, in February 2010.)


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