27 August, 2004

I didn't like it!

A quick movie review:

Many years ago, a friend in my kung fu class recommended the movie Hero, then available only through illegal means, i.e. bootlegged from Chinatown or pirated off the Internet. I've never let that stop me before, and I had just seen the fabulous Shaolin Soccer on his recommendation, so I gave it a go.

The movie has at last made it to American theaters and is receiving rave reviews. The basic plot is: the Qin emperor (pronounced "chin") lives in mortal fear of three great assassins, Broken Sword, Flying Snow and Dozing Buffalo (or something). Suddenly, out of the blue, news comes that an unknown fighter, a young police officer, has killed all three of these fearsome assassins. The Qin emperor invites him to sit before him and recount the story of how he dispatched them.

The movie consists of a bunch of 'Rashomon'-like vignettes, told and retold from various perspectives. Each of the vignettes consists, basically, of long fight scenes. The movie is gorgeous - visually stunning, with stark, beautiful scenery and extensive use of vivid color themes: the first telling of a story renders it in passionate red; when the true, and more melancholy version is recounted the same characters and settings are clothed in pale blues.

But it just doesn't work. It's too pretty. Everything tries so extraordinarily hard to be beautiful - and it would succeed, if it were a photograph, or even a music video. But as a movie which attempts to make you take an interest in the story, it totally fails. There's no grit in the movie, which means everything (and everyone) is so damn perfect they seem ridiculous. The characters in the story are rendered in the same stark style as the visual aspects are - which makes them totally boring archetypes. Or stereotypes, even. When the Rashomon twists in the story come and someone's personality completely flips, you're not surprised, you're not intrigued, you're not perplexed, because you never believed the original character in the first place. Even the characters themselves aren't startled by the reverses in the story.

I'll leave out the political conclusions of the film, presented in the final minutes, which I guarantee you will detest. Go and see it if you like, but if you don't laugh-in-the-wrong-place during the final, "moving", hail-of-arrows death scene, there's something not right with you.

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