I am often critical of present day films, music, and especially literature. It is not often that I will experience two pieces of art in one weekend that take my breathe away. This weekend, I did. The first was The Time Traveler's Wife, which is quite simply the best book I've read in at least a couple of years, the second was Hero, a Chinese film I went to last night to placate Mark and ended up enraptured with. I feel blessed by both of these experiences.
I mostly watch movies for storyline, acting, dialogue. I rarely pay attention to scores, I'm not much for cinematography, etc. I guess I'm just more a verbal than a visual person. But this movies strengths are visual, and they are strong enough that even an imbecile like me can't miss them.
The story is simple--a warrior, played by Jet Li of all people, stands before the king explaining how he has come to defeat the king's three most deadly assassins. A series of flashbacks ensue, from different perspectives. The same story is told three times, or at least parts of it are told three times, and each section has a different color (the first is red, the second green, the third white). The color is easily the most remarkable part of the film. It saturates the scenes, encases the viewer. Watching it is an almost hypnotic experience, in which you don't just register the color on the screen is red, but you feel red, taste red, smell red.
I am not a fan of martial arts movies. Even the much-ballyhooed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn't do all that much for me. Sure, it was cool when they flew around and stuff, but one scene started looking an awful lot like the next, I thought. That being said, the use of color, light, sound, film speed tricks, etc. in Hero's fight scenes turned them from martial arts cinema to art. I felt less that I was watching a movie and more than I was watching paintings move across a screen. Visually, the only movie I can even think to compare it to is Frida, and it made Frida look like it was shot in pastels.
So go see this movie. It doesn't matter if you don't like martial arts movies (I don't), it doesn't matter if you don't like subtitles. Just sit in your seat, listen to the awe-inspiring score, and drink it in. If you are anything like me, you will come out of the theater noticing the variation of the green grass and the green trees, the amazing blueness of the sky's blue, and the crispness of image all around you. Not only is it a beautiful film, it's a film that makes you realize the beauty in everything else. What more could you possibly ask for?