Release Date(s)2002 (September 15, 2009)
Studio(s)Elite Group Enterprises /Zhang Yimou Studio/Beijing New Picture Film/Miramax (Disney)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: D
2,000 years ago, China was a land divided into seven separate states gripped in a constant state of war. Among their leaders, only the ruthless King of Qin held the goal of uniting these states into a single, great nation. But the sole path to this future lay in many years of conquest and bloodletting, and the King was hated throughout the land.
Many attempts had been made on his life, by ruthless assassins from the other states – assassins known by names like Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow. Then one day, a warrior with no name is given an audience with the King. It seems he has single-handedly defeated all three of these great assassins. Nameless tells the King how he defeated the assassins, but does he speak the truth? And why did he defeat them? As the answers to these questions gradually unfold in a series of flashbacks, the mystery and beauty of Hero is revealed.
Hero is a remarkable film. This is certainly an actioner, of the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it goes well beyond that film in audacity and scope. Hero is a stunning meditation – a kind of epic ballet of love, honor and loyalty, told through a near perfect blending of movement, color and meaning. Jet Li stars here as Nameless in a role that elevates him above the ranks of the simple action star. Other standouts in the cast include longtime HK familiar Donnie Yen (known to American audiences for his role in Blade II), Zhang Ziyi (whom you’ll recall from the aforementioned Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Maggie Cheung (previously seen in Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love). But it’s the film’s stunning production design and cinematography that will leave you breathless. This is visual poetry, pure and simple. Directed by Zhang Yimou (of Raise the Red Lantern fame), Hero probably isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it remains one of the best films of the genre I’ve seen to date.
Thankfully, Miramax’s new Blu-ray presents the film looking as good as I’ve ever seen it, even in theatres. Color and contrast are generally very good, if a little faded occasionally due to the condition of the negative. Overall clarity is excellent, with few print defects visible (dust, scratches, etc), and the level of detail is particularly pleasing. The subtle grain texture visible here gives the image a lovely, film-like quality. The image is certainly not up to the level of more recent fare, but for this film, the transfer is terrific. It’s also a vast improvement over the previous Miramax DVD, which was just riddled with MPEG-2 compression artifacting.
Sadly, the film’s original Mandarin soundtrack is presented only in Dolby Digital 5.1. A DTS-HD lossless track is available, but on the English-dubbed audio only. Ugh. This is one of those oversights where you just scratch your head, because it makes no sense. Still, the Dolby Digital soundfield is smooth and natural, with tremendous ambience and good low frequency reinforcement. Listen for the subtle dripping of water all around in the “House of Chess” scene, for example, or the pounding beat of war drums when the Qin army attacks. The sounds of swordplay are crisp and airy, just as they should be. Lossless Mandarin would have been even better, but what can you do? Marks off on the audio score, but only a couple. Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in French and Spanish is also available, along with English, French and Spanish subs and English captions.
The extras on Miramax’s BD are the same as were included on the previous DVD. There’s a fairly straightforward “making of” featurette (Hero Defined) that runs about 24 minutes. It’s moderately interesting, but just as it’s starting to really get to the meat of what you want to know about... it moves on to the next topic. It amounts to interview clips with the director (and a few of the cast and crew), intercut with quick glimpses of generic production video – just superficial stuff. There’s also a 13-minute “conversation” between Quentin Tarantino and actor Jet Li, in which Tarantino gushes about Li’s work and the HK/action genre, while Li occasionally reveals an interesting bit of information. There’s also a short set of four storyboard-to-film comparison videos and a TV spot shilling the film’s soundtrack CD. New to the Blu-ray is D-Box compatibility and a Digital Copy. Nice, but neither is really necessary. The film deserves more in the way of actual bonus content – at least a commentary or something. Oh well.
Hero was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film several years back, and it’s just a wonderfully cinematic experience. I’m pleased to say that, at long last, it looks terrific on disc thanks to this new Blu-ray. It’s just a shame the lossless audio is dubbed. In any case, of all the recent Miramax Ultimate Force BD releases, the high-quality transfer here makes this the one to own. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt