Smart, entertaining, and thematically-resonant.
Hero is a movie about many things. The seductive power of deceit, and the importance of the truth in the face of it. Letting go of private grievance and vendetta for the sake of the public good in a spirit of self-sacrifice. Allowing a variety of Chinese character actors to bounce off each other in multiple variations on the same scenes and characters, each cleverer than the last. Laying down a savage bit of genre commentary on both the hyper-idealized and hyper-flawed heroes common to Wuxia. Rehabilitating an oft-maligned historical figure who is being reassessed in light of new archeological evidence and the observation that his political enemies wrote the history books about him for millennia. Making a variety of bold, colorful cinematographic choices to fit the mood of the various variations, to great artistic success. Staging a variety of fantastical fight scenes that, while often overlong, overstylized, and over-the-top, are nonetheless effective eye-candy when they aren't over-using cuts. Articulating the neigh-universal religious view that hate can't wash away hate, only peace. But, most of all, it's a good story about complex-but-sympathetic characters told in a good-old "Rashomon"-Style, and I can't recommend it enough. Even if the English translation never got around to explaining a really obvious question about a major character whose fate is otherwise unrevealed.
If I hear about a good martial-arts film, I expect shlock with good combat and with a good art film I expect deep talking and none/or uncomfortable combat. Yet this film defies that, same as House Of Flying Daggers. Maybe martial arts films mean something else in China? This is a very good film. There are things about this film that would be frowned upon in any other * yet it forces you to feel it's not about that and it will succeed or fail at something bigger. This is a story about stories, everything is an archetype and grander than itself. The film's colour scheme changes dramatically from scene to scene and bits of matching silk hang at random. The people can fight battles with each other in their heads and precisely fling droplets of rain with swords because they are heroes and somehow bigger than ordinary people. Hundreds of soldiers shuffle awkwardly round one person as he strolls through them. The film has a style unique to itself*, everything is chosen for a reason and shown for reason yet it's all wholly disconnected from the real world and any standard reasoning. I The fights are generally beautiful to watch but it contains a lot of Wire Fu which I've never really understood. Fights are normally interesting because they give the impression that it's really happening and the sheer fast-paced patternness of everything overwhelms us. Yet the minute they start flying it's stops looking real and everything slows. Maybe the idea is to enjoy the creativity and the idea of power that it's wielder must have and in terms of that Hero doesn't disappoint. But these are all just part of the idea that film slowly builds up and displays at the end and that's when it becomes clear this film is exceptional because the whole film is a piece of calligraphy, an Engglyph. It looks like itself, the same idea that the film presents is described perfectly in the telling of that idea.