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Yes only 6-8 months late we finally get the Hero review written by none other than Bonnie! Savor this review we had to file suit to get this review done.

Hero is a movie so rich in content that I almost can’t bear to watch it.  In my opinion, nobody should sit down and watch Hero from beginning to end in one sitting.  What you should do is get the DVD of Hero and watch a section at a time.  Better yet, watch each section several times.  This isn’t the kind of movie in which the plot slowly unfolds.  Though yes, it is one of those movies where the plot line is gradually revealed to be radically different than the way in which it was previously presented, even that isn’t the point of Hero.  What is the point?  Visual art painted in motion, the artful juxtaposition of cinematography with not only martial art but also the art of etiquette, ritual and ceremony.

Here is the story.

As the movie opens, we meet Nameless, a Prefect (the lowest rank in the kingdom of Qin).  He has come to let the Qin Emperor know that he has defeated, and killed, the emperor’s three legendary assassins, Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow.  The Emperor, naturally, wants to know how Nameless managed to defeat such peerless warriors.  As Nameless tells the story, we see it unfold — first his telling, then the version told by the Emperor, who is shrewd enough to read between the lines, and then Nameless’ correction of the details overlooked by the Emperor.  The question is, did Nameless truly defeat Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow — or did he conspire with them, convincing them to lay down their lives in order to give him the opportunity to get close enough to the Emperor to have a chance at slaying him?  Or was there a conspiracy, but one in which there was dissension in the ranks?

The answer to all these questions, the real crux of the matter, lies in the question of whether or not it was possible for Sky and Flying Snow to throw their matches with Nameless so skillfully that the Emperor’s own troops could be made eyewitnesses to testify on Nameless’ behalf.  Likewise, was Nameless skillful enough to defeat Sky and Flying Snow by apparently, but not actually, killing them — with a sword stroke so precise that it appears to kill, but allows one’s opponent, later, to be revived?

I’m not going to tell you the rest of the plot, because it is so convoluted that, frankly, you should just watch the movie and see it unfold for yourself.  Let’s move on to the actors, who are incredibly awesome.  This is a star-studded cast.  We have Jet Li (five time Wushu gold medalist) as Nameless.  Donnie Yen, who often stars in films with Jet Li, plays Sky – and these two incomparable martial artists deliver what I consider to be the best scene in the film, the duel between Nameless and Sky.  Broken Sword is played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who you should recognize if you have seen Red Cliff, in which he played Zhou.  (If you have not seen Red Cliff, you are excused from the rest of this review – please take four hours RIGHT NOW to go watch Red Cliff.)  Maggie Cheung, an actress who from the age of 18 has been handed role after role in Hong Kong films without even having to audition, plays Flying Snow.  Because Hero unfolds several different plots for your consideration (and the Qin Emperor’s), each of these actors essentially played at least three different roles.

I can’t speak in any kind of an educated way about the cinematography of this film – I’m not an artist – but I have to bring it up, because it literally makes the film.  Hero’s director, Yimou Zhang, should join the ranks of Kurosawa in film history.  Each scene is Hero is up to Kurosawa’s standards – and that is saying a lot.  These scenes also bring to mind the duel between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu in Kill Bill (another Quentin Tarantino film, though I am puzzled about Tarantino’s role in Hero – the credits mention him somewhat ambiguously).

Each scene has a color theme, and the actors wear different colors depending on the plot variation that is being acted out.  The use of color in Hero can only be described as exquisite, and it is something that you almost never see in American films.  (Or rather, I have almost never seen it – but I don’t watch as many movies as the rest of you JPFMovies fans.)

And then there are the truly sweet parts of the film.  Nameless and Sky stopping their fight to give coins to the blind Biwa player, asking him to play on as they duel.  The calligraphy teacher telling his students to keep practicing even as arrows rain down through the school’s roof and walls.  Broken Sword’s decision not to block Snow’s fatal sword thrust, just because he needs to make a point.  The lesson being taught again and again here – let’s not miss it, please – is that it’s not about WHETHER you live or die.  It’s about HOW you live or die.  That’s the point of all the etiquette.  It’s not some cute cultural reference or cinematic device – not ultimately – what it’s about, is dignity.  

Some movies are all plot. Some are all about the character development – and/or the cast. Some movies focus purely on cinematography.  Some movies push a strong moral. This movie does it all.

Finally, I know JPFmovies has been waiting a long time (probably more than six months) for this review.  But now do you see why?  Any sort of proper consideration of this movie takes a person in a million different directions.  How can it even fit in a blog post?  In 800 words or so all I have done is to sketch the outlines of Hero for you.  Can you blame me for taking so long to write this?  (JPFmovies can!)

Go forth and watch this rose of a movie, but just a little at a time, as if you were eating a box of chocolates – I know it’s Christmas, but that’s no reason to stuff yourself.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Tai Chi Master [太極張三豐] (1993) By Silver

Tai Chi Master [太極張三豐] (1993)

Starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu Ho, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung Yan, Lau Shun, Yu Hai, Sun Jian Kui

Directed by Yuen Woo Ping

Expectations: High. Haven’t seen this one in years and remember really liking it.

2 1/2

Wow. I was not prepared for the visual assault provided by Yuen Woo Ping’s Tai Chi Master. I had seen this a couple of times as a teenager, but it’s been so many years and for whatever reason, my mind was a near-empty slate in regards to this film. That being the case there wasn’t as much nostalgia as I had expected, as I remembered only very random things sprinkled throughout the film, making it almost like watching a brand new movie. In any case, Tai Chi Master is a highly entertaining kung-fu fantasy flick with a ridiculous amount of excellent wire-assisted fights.

Your enjoyment of wire-fu is essential to liking Tai Chi Master. Back in the day, I always greatly preferred your standard hand-to-hand fight to an overblown, high-flying one. These days I have softened quite a bit on that and I’ve come to fully appreciate what wirework can bring to a kung-fu film. My recent viewing of the Shaw Brothers classic Shaolin Intruders fully solidified me as a wire fan and Tai Chi Master is another great example of wirework done extremely well.

The film opens with the meeting of Tian Bao (Chin Siu Ho) and Jun Bao (Jet Li). Jun Bao is introduced as the senior student but due to his smaller size, Tian Bao bullies him into calling him senior. The two become friends and do everything together, sharing in chores, punishment and training. Tian Bao’s violent lust for power informs his every action, while Jun Bao’s focus is more on helping others and trying to be good. They are opposites but inseparable, a human yin-yang. As they age and become more rebellious, Tian Bao constantly tries to pull one over on the masters, but one day it all backfires and the two friends are thrown out of the temple.

This relationship is the heart of the film and its story. I’m not going to lie and tell you the emotional depth is anywhere on par with superior Hong Kong films like Once Upon a Time in China, Ip Man or even The Killer. The story may revolves around this brotherly relationship, but it’s all fairly superficial and not a whole lot more than excuses to have crazy fights. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the story and it works well within the context of the film, but it is more akin to your standard blockbuster style of writing that has a tendency to be a bit shallow. But the great thing about Tai Chi Master is that it knows this about itself and never tries to fool you into thinking it is more than it is. In true blockbuster form, the incredible action and sheer number of insane fights coming at you should be enough to keep you entertained. In fact, there were so many fights that I found myself as fatigued as the combatants on screen towards the end of the picture. Tai Chi Master is really a film that demands multiple viewings in order to properly take it all in, as a single run through will leave you spinning like the Tasmanian Devil.

For those not following my website and my occasional Hong Kong film reviews contained there, I have recently restarted my Hong Kong film obsession. Fans of such films are familiar with certain conventions used throughout the industry that just aren’t prevalent in Western cinema. Of course there’s the realistic stunts, the well-shot fight sequences, the oddly placed humor. Tai Chi Master has all of those in spades, but they aren’t what I speak of. The thing that I hadn’t run into in this new phase of my Hong Kong obsession was one that I knew would be inevitable. The eunuchs. Tai Chi Master marks the return of the eunuch to my film vocabulary and what a welcome return it is. The eunuch in this film, played by Sun Jian Kui, is absolutely fantastic and such fun to watch. Towards the end of the film, he has a rather gnarly swordfight with one of the heroes that is easily one of my favorite scenes in the film. Yeah! Eunuchs! I didn’t realize how much I had missed them. My teenage brain was unable to fully comprehend why a castrated man gained supernatural powers, but I accepted it. These days, I welcome it with open arms.

Tai Chi Master is a lot more comic than I remember it being, so initially it was sort of off-putting, but after I got into the groove I really enjoyed myself. Jet Li is great in his role as Jun Bao, and gets to show off his wonderful martial skill at the absolute highlight of his Hong Kong career. The scenes when he loses his grasp on reality and talks with the ducks are funny and completely different than any other role Jet has ever played. If that’s not enough to sell you on the film, Michelle Yeoh busts in with a fiery performance and proves why she is one of the top female martial artists of the silver screen. Director Yuen Woo Ping does a good job with the camera, complimenting his inspired fight choreography well. My favorite moment of choreography in the film is by far the fight between Tian Bao and Jun Bao on the log structure. I greatly enjoy fights where the stakes are constantly ratcheted up and the fighters must compensate, and this fight completely fits that bill.

I do wish that there was more actual Tai Chi in the film called Tai Chi Master. One of the few things I did remember was when Jet circled the water with his hands and noticed how it deflected the hard ball by being fluid and using the ball’s energy. These moments of martial creation are fantastic, and while I realize they happen when they do for a reason, somehow I think I would be more satisfied if they happened earlier and we got to see more on screen Tai Chi. Oh well, a minor complaint for an otherwise pleasing film. Highly recommended to wire-fu fans, as well as Jet Li fans. I wouldn’t start here if you’ve never seen a Hong Kong film though, as I think this one might be a bit too weird to win a new fan over.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 11, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Our Winner Silver E Picks: Tai Chi Master a/k/a Twin Warriors!

The winner of the first of two JPFmovies give away contests picked Jet Li’s 1993 classic: Tai Chi Master a/k/a Twin Warriors.  Good choice Silver E–there are those who say Twin Warriors is without a doubt Jet’s Li’s finest Shaolin movie and I don’t necessarily disagree with them.  Li does some of his finest martial arts sequences in this flick and manages to make them look effortless.  Twin Warriors also turns what could be a depressing film about two friends who take opposite paths and lightens it up with a segment where Li goes crazy and partakes in some hilarious shenanigans.  First he believes he is a duck and hides underwater in a fountain.  Then he believes a pillar that holds up a building is his long-lost Shaolin master. He even get mad when at a weeble-wobble `Mr. Tao’ doll when it will not answer his questions.

But I shall say no more since Silver has tentatively agreed to review the movie for us after he gets a chance to watch his new DVD.  I know we are all looking forward to it.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 21, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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We take a look at Once Upon A Time In China

My new partner in crime at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com and I have decided to collaborate on some of the finest Asian movies we’ve seen and give you, the reader, our thoughts on these films so you can make an informed decision on whether to view them or not.  Also, if you have seen any of the movies we decide to collaborate on we would love to hear your comments on the matter.  Again, this is one in a series we are going to do together so stay tuned for some great Asian movie reviews from two movie connoisseurs.

China has had a very tumultuous history, including hundreds of years of civil war, a humiliating defeat in the opium war and a bloody occupation by Japan.  It was during the dark times between the opium war and the Japanese occupation that a Chinese folk hero, physician and martial arts expert was to emerge — Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924).  Wong Fei-hung, a legendary figure, would, among other things, later inspire his countrymen to endure even bigger ordeals in the last century.  The legend of Wong Fei-hung has also inspired dozens of films.  In my opinion the best is Once Upon a Time In China, a 1991 Hong Kong kung-fu epic directed by Tsui Hark.  This film had five sequels and was among the first to introduce Jet Li as its main star to Western audiences.  Li as Wong Fei-hung provides the viewer with a fine performance especially given that role was played very early in his career.

The plot:  On the surface the movie seems simple enough, as my colleague said, almost Shaw Brothers simple, but in reality the story is very complex and transcends the many martial arts films whose plots can easily be summed up in a single sentence.  Wong Fei-Hung, like his countrymen, is forced to endure the humiliation of American slavers, local gangs, a renegade martial arts master and even his own wayward (but well-intentioned) students.  As if these problems were not enough, he has to contend with his growing affection for Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) which is important as to movie is set around the end of the 19th century when there were great social changes in China.  This is typified with his relationship with his “Aunt” Yee (who is not related to him by blood), as she would be taboo to marry.  The fact that this is a series of films allows the relationship to develop slowly also setting it apart from many Hong Kong films where romances are very fast-moving and unrealistic.

The action sequences are superb, which is unsurprising considering that they are choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, though dim-witted critics who can find fault in anything point to the wire-work and use of doubles.  The final showdown is a stunning success of editing as Jet Li was injured and had to be doubled for many of the shots that weren’t above the waist, but his extraordinary  fist techniques make up for this.  The film has a long running time for a martial arts movies so for once there is plenty of time for story and action.

Hong Kong movies don’t come much better than this.  Anyone who is a fan of wire-work and/or the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon should hold this movie in high esteem—either that or they are a communist.  I could not agree more with my new partner in crime at Silver Emulsion.  You must check out his take on Once Upon a Time In China at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com — you would be a fool not to.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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