Plot: What’s it about?
Qin (Daoming Chin) rules over all of China, in a time when the first Emperor had yet to take the throne. He isn’t the sole ruler, as each of the seven kingdoms has one, but he is the most powerful of the lot. Thanks to his position and the desire from others to seize his power, his life is always in danger. He is faced with assassins on a regular basis, some more dangerous than others. But three stand above the crowd as the most lethal, the ones who pose the gravest threat to Qin’s position. These three assassins are known as Broken Sword, Sky, and Flying Snow. Qin has wanted them eliminated for some time, but even his most skilled warriors have unable to do so. So he is shocked when a nameless warrior (Jet Li) approaches his throne and reports that the three have been dispatched, by this lone swordsman. As he is thrilled with the news, he invites the warrior in a private audience, so that he can learn how this incredible deed was done. But is his story the complete truth, or does someone else have a version of their own?
This movie was a smash success across the world, with sizable box office production, audience approval, and even critical praise. Even Oscar and Golden Globe nominated poured in, not to mention over fifty million dollars at the U.S. box office, no small feat for a foreign picture. But here in America, Hero still given its proper due and perhaps now on home video, the film can be discovered on a grand scale. As expected, Miramax marketed Hero as an action movie, with martial arts mayhem and with Jet Li in the lead, that was a sound approach, since U.S. audiences knew some of his previous work. And yes, Hero does have some incredible fight sequences, but to call it an action movie is a serious understatement. The film takes excellent fight scenes, mixes in well crafted drama, adds a drop or two of romance, then sets those elements on the stage of an historical epic. That means stunning visuals, detailed locations, and beautiful costumes. Not as shallow as Gladiator or Troy however, as Hero is a true epic in all regards. Most films that aim at epic proportions tend to focus more on production values, leaving the story and characters left behind. But in Hero, no such disappointments surface and the result is an actual epic, one few could dislike. Li is superb in the lead, while his costars such as Donnie Yen, Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, and Maggie Cheung are in top form as well. I do think Miramax could have done more with this release, as Hero was lavished with some awesome treatments in other regions. As a result, most fans of the film already own an import version, so Miramax should have drummed up a must have edition of their own. Even as a merely solid effort, Hero’s disc is worthwhile, so don’t hesitate to grab this excellent movie.
Video: How does it look?
Hero is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is about as visually dynamic as cinema can get, so it was crucial that this transfer was up to snuff. But Miramax has let down Asian cinema fans in the past, with lackluster treatments. In this case, the studio comes through and delivers Hero in prime condition, starting off with a fantastic source print. I had to strain to find any debris or grain in this transfer and even then, the defects were minor and of no distraction. The color scheme is intense and bold, but this transfer handles all the colors with no concerns whatsoever. The hues can be as rich as desired, never blooming or coming off as unnatural, which was vital to the film’s visual design. I was impressed by the contrast here also, as black levels are stark and rich, with no visible detail loss. In short, I couldn’t ask for much more from this presentation, as Miramax has come through in the clutch.
Audio: How does it sound?
Miramax is often criticized for stripping Asian films of their original language, in favor of an English dub, but Hero is an exception. The original Mandarin soundtrack is not only preserved here, but Miramax has given us dual 5.1 surround options, in both Dolby Digital and DTS. I still didn’t expect the world, but I was surprised by how effective the audio is, especially with the DTS option. The surrounds pulse throughout the movie, with high points whenever the action heats up. This isn’t just loud either, as the surround presence is well crafted and really enhances the experience. Even calmer scenes have great background noise, which gives the scenes a more natural presence. No troubles with dialogue either, as the vocals are clean and crisp, with no muffled tones or other mishaps. As usual, the DTS option edges out the Dolby Digital track, but sound terrific and are sure to please fans. This disc also includes English and French language tracks, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes an interview with Jet Li, a half hour behind the scenes featurette, and a selection of the film’s storyboards.