i don’t know if it’s going to be eligible or not, but if it is then this film should win an academy award for cinematography. when wizard of oz came out in 1939 color had been around in some form or another for more than 20 years, but still wasn’t very popular. at the time the wizard of oz was probably the best use of color in a good film. i think that hero is almost as impactful today as wizard of oz must have been then. certainly there have been great uses of color in the last 65 years (ran, fahrenheit 451, adventures of robin hood, black orpheus, songs from the second floor, etc.), but this is a film that will not only be most remembered for its use of color, but will also (hopefully) expand the use of color into the future.
the story follows jet li, who plays an assassin, as he infiltrates the emperor’s palace claiming to have slain the emperor’s greatest enemies. at the beginning of the film captions tell us that every country has men who are willing to die for a cause (religion, country, money, etc.) and that these men are often called heroes, and that these men exist on either side of whatever conflict is at issue. immediately we get the sense that the film is aware of the relative nature of heroism, good, evil and truth. once li is inside the emperor’s palace the story unfolds in unconventional time; at first li tells the emperor of his exploits over the emperor’s enemies, later the emperor (having figured out that li is an assassin, not an ally as li claims to be) tells his own version of the events, as he imagines them. then li tells the story again, this time telling the true story since the emperor has already figured out li’s plan. in each rashomon-esque telling of the truth the characters within the story are adorned in different colored garments; and in each case the color is befitting of the situation. in the first telling li portrays two of his enemies, who are lovers, as extremely emotional characters who are ultimately defeated because li is able to play their own emotions against them. during this telling of the story the characters are wearing red, which is a perfect match for the emotional nature of the sequence. the emperor counters with his version of the story, in which he portrays his enemies as less emotional, and more thoughtful warriors who live in the country. in this version of the story the characters wear blue and green – earthy, calm colors more befitting of the monkish lifestyle they lead in this version. the final version, the one li tells after the emperor has revealed he knows li is there to kill him, is the ‘true’ story and as such, the characters wear all white.
this is a film that benefited greatly from computer enhancement – from colors changing in the middle of a shot, to the wire stunts, to the hail of arrows – the film wouldn’t have been quite as impactful if not for the ability of the filmmakers to digitally enhance the picture.
other than the look, the film is pretty good. the acting and story are both good and the story, especially, adds philosophical layers to the film that make it more thoughtful and timeless than most action films. in a lot of ways this is the film crouching tiger, hidden dragon was purported to be.
unfortunately it’s a film that revels in its excesses, and that becomes the film’s ultimate undoing. there are many moments of brilliance, but the beginning takes a bit to get going and the excessively slow ending drags the film just after it had built to a great crescendo. that’s one of the hardest things about film – unlike photography or literature, it’s a medium of absolute pacing: each minute of the film is always one minute long, and with that constraint comes the artistic challenge of pacing.Watched in theater