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Last Wednesday night I watched Hero with Neva, Mich, Quark, and Lia, and all I can say is... Wow. WOW.
Actually, no, that's not all I can say. I can say a lot more. It's a fucking masterpiece. It's wonderful. It's the best film of the year so far, and I wouldn't be surprised if it stays that way, or at least in the top 5. You certainly won't find a more beautiful film this year, and though it's a bit early yet to say that, I daresay I'll still be right come December.
It's breathtaking. You can ask Neva, right after the introductory text, I already told her "I'm definitely watching this again." Once it started, I was just grinning from ear to ear like an idiot. I mean, I'd been waiting for this movie a long time. One of the best filmmakers, Zhang Yimou, working with my favorite cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, making a wuxia martial arts epic with a dream cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, and Donnie Yen. And, man, it was WORTH it. It's so rare for a film to live up to, and even exceed its hype, but Hero did it effortlessly. The first fight alone was worth the 160 pesos we paid (kind of expensive, yes, but Greenbelt 3 THX = P150 + P10 reservation fee is something I'm willing to pay for a film like this). It's operatic, it's grandiose, sweeping, epic, all the ridiculous adjectives you'd care to use. It's completely unlike anything I expected and yet I was satisfied on every level, and even some I didn't consider. The script, for example. I expected the great cinematography and the wonderful acting, but I didn't think the script would be that good. In a way, it has to be, because much of the film is silent. It's a film where what is said is just as important as what is unsaid. Where gestures are so important. And the structure of the film also took me by surprise: a series of stories within stories, somewhat Rashomon-like and yet not.
The visuals are just staggering. The colors are so alive, so vibrant, they just leap off the screen, and burn themselves in your retina. You could hang frames on your wall. The movement is fluid, graceful. The best wire work ever seen. The effects aren't distracting, and gladly aren't even that noticeable. I think it's a testament that the theater was mostly quiet throughout. No laughing at the wrong places. No talkative people, even in the many silences. Even us, as much as we make hirit sometimes, were just quiet, enjoying the spectacle.
Three scenes in the film brought tears to my eyes. Two involve Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung's doomed relationship, and one wasn't even about the story: the stunning fight between Maggie Cheung's Flying Snow and Zhang Ziyi's Moon in the forest. It's just so gorgeous, I found tears escaping my eyes, the kind that just appear out of nowhere without any preamble, the way they came out of Grima Wormtongue when he saw the army Saruman had amassed. Just by sheer, mindblowing AWE.
How many times do I have to tell you to watch this movie!? And I do mean in a theater. It's a theater movie. You'll miss so much if you just see it on video. I heard it's coming out in the US in November pa. Tough shit, folks. Here's one time I'm happy to be in the Philippines.
It's amusing to think about the connections among the cast and crew of Hero. Donnie Yen and Jet Li, for example, are both action superstars in Asia, though of course Li's more popular worldwide. They've both worked together before in the Once Upon a Time in China films. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung were of course in In the Mood for Love, amongst other Wong Kar-Wai films, all shot by Christopher Doyle. And finally, Zhang Ziyi was discovered by Zhang Yimou when he cast her in The Road Home. And may I further add that I really liked Ziyi in this one, and am so glad she chose to accept the role despite its being relatively small and inessential. Then again, she'd have to be a fool to turn this down. Even on paper the project looked like a sure thing.
Going to the website, you can read a bit about the film. The part I remember most is the story behind the filming of the forest fight, where Zhang Yimou had a man in the forest to keep an eye on the changing colors of the leaves, sending videotapes to him, and when it was just the right color, the whole production rushed there. Crewmembers had to gather all the leaves after every take and arrange them according to three levels of brightness: A for in front of the actors, B for behind them, and C on the floor.
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