the tunes just keep on comin'
republican update

hero (zhang yimou, 2002)

Hero finally arrives in the States two years after its original release, and it's worth the wait. A gorgeous epic that manages to take care of business in less than two hours, Hero is every bit as beautiful as you've heard, and if you've seen the arrows flying through the air in the previews, the full version of those arrows is even better than you hope.

The plot seemed a bit confusing to us at first, and as we left the theatre, everyone in turn said "very pretty, not sure what it was about." Everyone, that is, except Robin, who broke down the themes in a succinct fashion. Once she stated it so plainly, I realized I, too, had understood what the movie was trying to say, but I resisted the message because I liked how it looked. To explain without too many spoilers, Hero takes place when China is split into several warring provinces. A brutal king of one province attempts to achieve his goal of uniting all of China under a common banner, no matter the cost. To the extent he succeeds, and to the extent the film shares his vision, Hero is a model of fascist ideology: the individual matters less than the community, efficiency is paramount, a strong leader is needed to mold the people into a cohesive whole.

The fine Salon critic Charles Taylor complains that "the anti-'Hero' arguments don't take into account that the film ends not in a surge of patriotic feeling but on a pronounced mournful note of contingency and skepticism. And they ignore how the movie forces the King to live up to the ideology he so glibly spouts about sacrificing the happiness of the individual for the good of all. In our final glimpse of the King, the man has been dwarfed by the trappings of his power." All of which may be true, but none of which deflects the possibility that the movie is ultimately on the side of nationalistic ideology. And when Taylor notes that the "real shame of the political quibbling that has taken part in some quarters over 'Hero' is that those arguments have nothing to do with how enjoyable the film is," he is correct to foreground the beauty of the movie, but, I think, wrong in claiming that it has nothing to do with our enjoyment of the film. Or rather, the film is extremely enjoyable UNTIL we think about the ideology, at which point some of that enjoyment may take a back seat to other concerns.

And I don't suppose they should, because Hero really is a feast. The cast is a dream for HK fans: Jet Li, always better when he's not trying to speak English; Donnie Yen, who has a small part but who allows Li to engage in one extended fight sequence that is astounding; the incomparable Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung; and Zhang Ziyi, who for my money hasn't quite moved beyond adorable yet but who is getting there. And, honest, those damn arrows are really something. Hero may not be the best movie these stars have made (those would include Hard-Boiled for Leung, In the Mood for Love with Leung and Cheung, Iron Monkey for Yen, Crouching Tiger for Ziyi)), but it's close enough to count.


Charlie Bertsch

That's a super review, Steven. Very _________ , though not exclusively that either. I'm going to go see it with Eric I think.

Steven Rubio

You got me ... what's that underlined thingie?

Charlie Bertsch

BS. Didn't want to say it. . .

We're in the middle of converting the whole website to a TypePad style format that everyone can work on easily. Wonder if it will work.


I was appalled by Taylor's review--I thought Sontag nailed those fascism apologists once and for all 30 years ago.

Yeah, Hero is visually beautiful, in a sterile, inert kind of way. Zhang used compulsive symmetry to much greater effect in Raise the Red Lantern, IMO.

But watching Hero in Hong Kong is a very frightening experience. All we get on a daily basis from our masters in Beijing is this bleating about the paramount, overriding need for "stability"--i.e., go ahead and make money by any means available, be as corrupt as you want, but never, ever challenge The Party or we'll shut you up but good. It's nothing more than the postmodern CCCP's version of the iron fist in the (garishly decorated) velvet glove.

Zhang's career definitely took a turn after To Live (by far his best movie, I think). It's like he just gave up and decided what was most important to him was to keep working--and that meant giving The Party what it wants. So now he makes movies that can actually be released in China.

His new film, House of Flying Daggers, is Hero lite, a deliberately "entertainment"-oriented martial arts action movie that all but screams "NO POLITICS HERE, NO SIRREE BOB." It's great looking, of course, in a cookie cutter Crouching Tiger kinda way. (Speaking of Ang Lee, am I the only person in the room who thinks Hulk is his best movie? I thought so.)

Steven Rubio

Thanks for the HK perspective ... makes sense. Maggie Cheung is still beautiful, though ...

I remember liking Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm, but can't actually remember much about them, so perhaps I'm not the person to talk about Ang Lee.

Are we going to like Infernal Affairs? The first of the trilogy is about to reach the States ... guess they're getting it released before the Scorsese version beats it to the screen. Actually, if I hurry I can buy the entire trilogy on DVD for $30 from HKFlix.

Oh yeah, you want a Gmail invite? And why does my ESPN team stink?



The first two Infernal Affairs are worth seeing; the third one is shite. I find the good ones sorta overrated, though. Decent, generic, blood-stained loyalty stuff, but nothing all that special. Your mileage may vary.

A Gmail invite? Sure, if you've got one to spare. I'd like an account the spammers don't know about yet.

Your ESPN team has the opposite problem of mine: you've got good pitching, weak hitting. Me, I've got Derek Lowe as my rotation anchor. So neither of us gets the flag this year.

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