A Rashomonian wuxia made by the person who brought us the bright, crisp melancholy of Raise the Red Lantern, this film more or less could not fail. Though one of its themes, as far as I can follow them, seem to be about sacrifice for greater ideals in unsettling nationalistic terms, the more intriguing idea of a warrior who is unwilling to kill, this paradoxical philosophy of strength through unwielded power, overwhelms the downside. More so, though, the beautiful dance of blade, elements, and environment that this film is dominated by puts everything else to shame.

There are some who might sully this film with the qualifier that it's "cool." Those people are boorish fools. "Cool" is for pop-art and jazz records. This film's elegant fight sequences are closer to opera, or classical music, or even melodrama, if we insist upon putting it into Western terms. Mostly, they are just breath-taking. Cascading green cloth, skies blackened by arrows, droplets of water, and calligraphy all take focus away from the clatter of the swords, but enhance the fights by making them about more than just parry-parry-thrust-parry ad nauseum.

It's also worth noting that this stylized combat, which is not unusual to the few wuxia I've seen, is taken down a slightly different path than some of those films. A lot of them are bananas, using incredible combat-feats to evoke joy in their disbelievability; Hero strips away the absurdity somehow and makes them poetic instead.

December count: 49/100.

Sally Jane liked this review