Proof that a flash colour scheme is not enough to salvage a film with as much prose and interest as sand or a moderately yellow banana, Hero cements itself in mediocrity and refuses to budge. Enjoyable, yes, its simplistic story detailing a nameless man (Jet Li) setting out on a quest to defeat three assassins is one of definite potential. But director Zhang Yimou is far more focused on picking out the right shade of azure for his backgrounds than he is on bringing any colour to an underwhelming chain of events. Traditions and battles lead into one another with relative indifference, so long as the camera is stood the right way up and the actors aren’t weeping with fear or distress then Yimou has accomplished his contractual obligations.
But fulfilling such a mandatory checklist of necessary items brings no charm or allure to that of Hero. Ironically bland, considering the vivid colour scheme, which is far more memorable than any of the dialogue or character development found throughout. Hero is undeniably nice to look at, but is unmemorable. Considering how carefully curated the set design, costumes and framing are, there is no other word than “disappointing” to describe the overall impact the film leaves. Unmemorable scenes play out, and sadly even with this grand collection of shades and tinges, Yimou fails to construct anything that will play on the audience’s mind for longer than a flutter of time.
Sleek it may be, but Hero is not deserving of any praise higher than a shrug of the shoulders and a weak, forced smile. It is not a bad movie, not in the sense that it falls to pieces shrouded in a vibrant, showy cape of its own making. Li, Donnie Yen and Maggie Cheung make for forgettable leads, each cocooned in their very own colour scheme. They are defined by tincture and textiles, rather than titillating detail or tribulations that would give their characters a semblance of depth. A shame, too, that the action depends so little on how these characters sound and feel, and the large swathe of action and choreography is impressive, but of little memorability. A film is only so good as its characters, yet here Yimou fails to represent any unique thematics or prose that would set his film apart as more than just another action flick, channelling all its energy into one pocket of interest, in the hopes that this unique draw will disguise the cracked, underwhelming core.
An argument could be made that Hero is style over substance, but Yimou is crucial to a line being shakily drawn between the two. There are breaches, naturally, although they are somewhat forgivable, considering the general simplicity of such a story. There is room for artistic talents encroaching on the directness of this tale, disguising the plain fact that there is nothing worth mentioning outside of its faux, radiant spectacle. Forgettable, charmless and using its one draw so often that what could’ve been an intense bit of interest instead becomes a flimsy crutch for this mediocre story to limp along on. Shameful, really, but this sort of approach is replicated by the same director with The Great Wall, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that his shtick doesn’t stick.