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Fifth Generation master Zhang Yimou made one of the most flat-out gorgeous martial-arts films ever with this sweeping and strikingly stylized action epic featuring superstars Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi.
One of the most flat-out gorgeous martial-arts films ever made, Hero rode the wave of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to smashing international box-office success. Jet Li anchors a dream cast — which includes superstars Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi — as a nameless assassin (fittingly named Nameless) who arrives at the court of a powerful warlord, claiming to have killed the three seemingly invincible assassins who had previously made attempts on the warlord's life. In flashback, Nameless recounts his battles with the trio of master killers and their deaths at his hand — but it gradually becomes clear that the anonymous warrior has a hidden agenda of his own. A near-total inversion of the "noble hero fights official corruption" template of virtually all Hong Kong wuxia films, the Mainland-produced Hero tellingly (or transparently) argues for the virtues of peace and stability offered by centralized state control. Ideological questions aside, however, the artistry on display here is simply extraordinary: Fifth Generation icon Zhang Yimou, best known for his historical art-house dramas, proves himself amazingly adept at the high-flying action sequences, while master cinematographer Christopher Doyle Du Ke Feng surpasses himself with the film's breathtaking, boldly colour-coordinated visual design.