Highlighted by a pageant of breathtaking images, Zhang Yimou's exhilarating Hero is at once an epic historical tale, a rousing action movie, and an intimate romance. Comparisons to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will be inevitable for Western audiences, and while the two films share a similarly romantic take on the "wuxia" genre of gravity-defying, sword-wielding heroes, the faster-paced Hero has a harder edge and clearer focus. The brisk running time compresses what could have been a sprawling story into a lean narrative that rarely pauses for breath as it accelerates toward a gripping finale. Real emotion and passion is evoked through the powerful relationship between Broken Sword and Flying Snow (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung), and even a minor character like Moon (Zhang Ziyi) has a memorable presence. The flashback structure, which finds Jet Li and Chen Daoming engaging in a storytelling tête-à-tête, is handled with such confidence that there's never any confusion as the story slips in and out of the past and present. Much of the credit for this goes to the film's amazing use of color, which not only distinguishes the various stories from one another but also serves as the underlying force behind the vibrant imagery. With its beautiful cinematography, dazzling combat sequences, and moving love story, Hero is the rare epic that manages to be intensely personal.
by Skyler Miller review