Cinematography that can easily take over the plot.
Now and then it's good for both Eastern and Western cultures to redefine the concept of "hero." Brad Pitt's recent success as Achilles ("Troy") reconfirmed the heroic warrior's physical excellence and foolhardy courage as a hallmark of Hollywood's version. From the East, Jet Li's ("Cradle 2 the Grave") "Nameless" in "Hero" takes a different turn: Although every bit as physical as Pitt's Achilles, he is even more the cunning Ulysses, the hero with brains and a heart with an insightful vision of his country's future and a humble realization about his place.
Writer/director Yimou Zhang ("Raise the Red Lantern") tells of China before its first emperor, when the seven kingdoms fought for supremacy and Qin of the northern province was the most powerful ruler and most vulnerable to assassination.
Nameless is asked to come to the court to tell how he vanquished Qin's three superior warrior enemies. In the course of the narration, Qin is revealed as an inspired leader who uses war for the purpose of eventually uniting all China.
Nameless is also revealed as a new kind of hero, one who relies on an intricate design for his plot. Along the way he proves to have a heart as well as a brain. On another allegorical level, the role of the United States as a unifier of the globe, although not initially perceived as benign, through its initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq makes sense as a parallel to the misunderstood Qin. Indeed President Bush shares the vision of Qin without perhaps the exceptional intellect of the Asian.
Although the film's action at times looks like the digitized and ballet-like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," it is more like "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring" with cinematography that can easily take over the plot to become the major character of the drama. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle ("In the Mood for Love") has blindingly vivid colors and desert landscapes looking sometimes like the Sahara and other times Monument Valley. The three versions of the story Nameless tells in the "Rashomon" tradition are dominated by their own color (red, white, or blue) to reflect different ways of seeing the same event. Doyle confirms: "Every story is colored by personal perceptions."
The definition of hero changes depending on the culture and the times. The dynamic heroes of "The Hero" do not fit Emerson's prediction that "every hero becomes a bore at last." Perhaps in the sequel.