The Incredibles 2 (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Picking up precisely where the last film left off, The Incredibles 2 follows the Parr family as they continue to struggle with the government, homework, boys, and pretty much all the same problems they had before. Except, this time, there may be a solution to their woes. See, even though superheroes are illegal in this world, there are people, powerful people, who want to bring them back into the sunlight. One of them approaches the Parrs, and offers to let them stay in his mansion, and get superheroes legalized again, if they come and work for him. Specifically, if Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl, comes to work for him. See, of all the classic superheroes in this world, she had the best track record when it came to not causing collateral damage, so if they want to convince people supers should be legal, they need to show that they can stop crime without blowing stuff up. So it’s up to Bob, aka Mr. Incredible, to watch the kids. Will he be able to manage? Will Elastigirl help make supers legit again? Well, watch the movie, and find out.

The Incredibles is a very important movie to me. Not only did I love it when it first came out, but I’ve actually grown to appreciate it much more as I’ve gotten older. Because, believe it or not, there is a ton of stuff in it that is super mature, and that simply did not register with my 8-year-old brain. I didn’t know what lawsuits were, or what attempted suicide was. I had no concept of mid-life crises, or adultery. I also didn’t pick up that the movie was a giant homage to 60s spy films. So much stuff in that first flick only became clear to me after I grew up, and, honestly, I think the movie’s become a lot more relevant in recent years. The Incredibles was made before the big superhero boom that started in 2008, and yet, it feels like a response to the MCU. It points out so many cliches and tropes in superhero cinema, and it’s villain, Syndrome, is, in many respects, the perfect analogue for the entitled, mean-spirited fanboys that have become so vocal and prevalent in recent years. What I’m trying to say with all this is, The Incredibles is fantastic, and whenever you have a sequel to a successful film come out 14 years after the original, there’s a strong likelihood that it’s going to be bad. Fortunately, The Incredibles 2 isn’t bad. In fact, it’s quite fun. The animation is superb, far better than the original’s (though that’s just a byproduct of technology improving over time). The music is as jazzy as before. It’s great to see Elastigirl get the chance to shine in the lead role. The believable family dynamics are still there, And the action scenes are amazing. They’re easily the best part of the movie. Basically, this is a fun, exciting movie with a whole lot of what you liked about the first Incredibles. And, odds are, you’ll walk out the theater satisfied.

That said, it’s not as good as the original. And I know that that’s a cliche, to say that a sequel isn’t as good as the original, but there is a reason I say that here. Part of what made the first Incredibles so good was the fact that it was a fresh perspective on the superhero genre. Now, though, after 14 years, we’ve seen every conceivable incarnation of the superhero–from the dark and gritty, to the lighthearted and comedic–and this film doesn’t really have anything new to bring to the discussion. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t really have anything to say about the genre, which is kind of disappointing. On top of this, the film picks up precisely where the last one left off, and yet, characters behave as though they didn’t undergo the arcs they had in the previous flick. Elastigirl still wants her kids to suppress their powers. Mr. Incredible still would rather go off and punch people than spend time with his family. Violet is still insecure around boys, and Dash is still bad at homework. And as if this weren’t bad enough, certain characters, like Dash and Frozone, really don’t get anything to do in this movie. The identity of the villain is also pretty easy to predict, and his/her motivation isn’t nearly as compelling as Syndrome’s from the original. FInally, the movie does a lot of stuff with Jack Jack, the baby of the Parr family who, in the previous flick, was revealed to have multiple powers, and it kind of got on my nerves after a while. They make a big joke out of saying “Oh, he also has this power, and this power, and this power” but it does get to a point where he feels too powerful, and he more or less acts as a deus ex machina. There’s also one scene where he fights a raccoon that totally took me out of the movie. It was so silly, and so inconsistent with the tone that the film had established up to that point that it kind of ruined the movie for me. Now look, I’m probably a minority on this point, since a lot of reviews I’ve read found Jack Jack’s bits to be funny, but I kind of hated them, and they brought the film down for me.  Even so, they aren’t enough for me to tell you to not go see this movie. It’s fun, exciting and the heart is still there. It’s the best Incredibles sequel we could have hoped for after all this time. And, I have to say, I absolutely adored the short film, “Bao” that came before the main movie. If you’re Chinese, or of Chinese descent, like me, you are going to love, and empathize with it, so, so much. It’s great.

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Deadpool 2 (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, has a problem. His girlfriend is dead, and, thanks to his healing factor, he can’t join her in heaven. Not until his heart is in the right place. But what does that mean? Well, Wade interprets that as a call to protect a young mutant boy, Russell, from the time-traveler Cable, who has journeyed back from the future to assassinate him. And if that sounds like the plot to a Terminator movie, never fear. Deadpool most certainly comments on that fact. So now, the race is on to assemble a new super team, X-Force, and save Russell before it’s too late. Will they do both in time? Well, you’ll just have to watch to find out.

Deadpool 2 is a movie I watched purely on a whim. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original. I mean, I liked it well enough, and I could certainly understand why people appreciated it, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. A little too much profanity, and childish humor, for my taste. Still, the reviews for this film came in, they were good, and I decided to sit down in a movie theater and give Deadpool 2 a try. And, having done so, I found myself walking out rather satisfied.

This movie is more or less exactly what the original was–lots of violence, profanity, and meta-textual humor–but with a bigger budget. A lot more explosions and car chases this time around. Like the last one, there are some jokes that really hit, and some jokes that don’t. Also like the last one, the acting, particularly from Ryan Reynolds, is quite good, though Reynolds does chew the scenery a bit too much for my taste. There’s one moment in particular, which parodies overlong, dramatic death scenes, that I found a bit grating. But, to be fair, that’s entirely a matter of personal taste. As I mentioned in my Death Of Stalin review, comedy is one of the few genres that is truly subjective. If you aren’t into a particular type of humor, you won’t like certain movies. So, for that reason, I can’t really knock Deadpool 2 down for not having jokes that I liked. What I can comment on is the filmmaking, which, for the most part, is solid. As I said, the acting is good, the action is well-staged, with everything being shot in clear, long takes, and the film moves at a brisk enough pace that you’re never bored. I also liked the introduction of new characters into the universe, particularly Domino, who has the power to be lucky, and Yukio, who is Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s girlfriend. That last fact is actually a pretty big deal, because Yukio and Negasonic are now officially the first openly queer couple in a mainstream blockbuster. That’s huge. I also really like the woman who plays Yukio, Australian actress Shiori Kutsuna, who, fun fact, was in a movie that one of my professors, Shinho Lee, wrote. It’s called While The Women Are Sleeping, and I think you all should check it, and her other work, particularly the Japanese remake of Unforgiven, out. Unfortunately, neither she nor Negasonic are really in the movie for that long. And even though it’s great to see an openly queer Asian woman in a mainstream blockbuster, she’s kind of a Japanese stereotype. She giggles, waves, and the only thing she really gets to say is “Hi Wade” and “bye Wade” throughout the movie. I just hope that in the next film, she gets a little more to do. But my biggest gripe, by far, is the fact that, as impressive as the action is, it’s all so big and frenetic that it gets exhausting after a while. It kind of reminds me of The Last Jedi. If you read my review for that film, you’d know that I liked the movie, but I found all the action in it so big and bombastic that no single beat felt more important or impactful than another. The same principle holds true with Deadpool 2. Virtually every action scene involves an explosion, ten cars flipping over each other, and at least 100 people getting killed. And those are supposed to be the smaller, warm-up beats leading to the big climax.

In the end, though, I do think Deadpool 2‘s strengths outweigh its weaknesses. It’s got good acting, well-filmed action and a brisk pace. Maybe some of the humor doesn’t land, and maybe it could have given Yukio and Negasonic more to do, but those are both matters of personal taste. I do think it’s fun, and definitely worth a watch.

Ready Player One (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

In the future, the world has become overcrowded and crappy. So, as a means of escape, people turn to the Oasis, a massive, interconnected virtual reality where they can play games, fight, and make friends. And money. Lots and lots of money. That aspect is key, since the Oasis is, quite literally, the most valuable thing in the world, since everyone on the planet uses it. And for good reason. Inside the Oasis, you can do whatever, be whatever, you want. You want to climb Mount Everest with Batman? You got it. You wanna blow up the Death Star with Frodo? No problem. Anyway, when the creator of the Oasis dies, he hides a golden egg somewhere in the void, and the only way to access it is by completing three trials, each of which unlocks a special key. Finding the egg will result in the winner gaining complete control over the Oasis, something that literally everyone in the world, especially major corporations, wants. So the chase is on to see who will complete the Trials, find the egg, and take control over the Oasis. You want to find out who wins? Well, you’ll just have to buy a ticket and see for yourself.

Ready Player One is jaw dropping, pulse-pounding, pure nerd-gasmic joy. There is never a dull moment in this movie, and the creativity and energy with which this film’s world is drawn cannot be compared. If you’re a fan of video games, anime, comic books, or movies from the 80s, you will have so much fun with this flick. I certainly did. Seeing things like King Kong, the DeLorean from Back To The Future, and the motorcycle from Akira all coexisting in the same frame, and flipping over each other in a truly bonkers chase scene, made my inner child squeal with joy. Steven Spielberg was absolutely the right man to helm this picture. Not only did he create a lot of the pop culture icons referenced in this movie, but he really has a great sense for action, building worlds, and creating a sustained sense of wonder. And if you didn’t know after watching Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and Bridge Of Spies, he works really well with actors too. All the performances in this film are great. The stand outs, for me, are Lena Waithe, or as you may know her, Denise from Master Of None, Olivia Cooke as the female lead, and Ben Mendelsohn as the villain. All of them get the chance to shine, and they really are a lot of fun to watch. And, as if this needs saying, the special effects, music, editing and cinematography are all superb. If you want to go to the movies and watch something big, loud, and nerdy in the best possible way, this flick is for you.

Now, as much as I love Ready Player One, and, trust me, I’ll probably go see it two or three more times, I do have problems with it. Most of them are script related. For starters, the first fifteen minutes are extremely exposition heavy. There’s a lot of voice over, explaining what the Oasis is, and how it works, and, honestly, most of it is unnecessary. The opening shot shows our hero, Wade Watts, walking past people hooked up to VR devices, and we get brief glimpses of their inner fantasies. That shot has no dialogue whatsoever, and it tells us everything we need to know about the Oasis. All the extra voice over is just unnecessary. And as fun as the actors in this movie are, the characters they’re playing are kind of shallow. All we really know about Wade is that he’s an orphan, who lives with his AUnt, and she has an abusive boyfriend. That’s pretty much it. And it’s more ore less like that for all the other characters too. Yes, they have funny dialogue. Yes, they do cool things. But, if you were to ask me something personal about them, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Because there’s really nothing to them. So if you want to watch a film that has deep, fully fleshed-out characters, this picture probably isn’t for you. But if you just want to have a good time at the movies, without being talked down to, and have a deep love for the pop culture of a bygone era, don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Game Night (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are an incredibly competitive couple. They met in college, where they bonded over the fact that they had to win at just about everything. And they still do. Every week, they invite all their friends over for a game night, where they play pictionary, charades, and other such party favorites. And, as you might imagine, they take it way too seriously. Bateman, especially, as he’s incredibly jealous of his brother, Kyle Chandler, a wealthy Wall Street broker who joins them from time to time. One night, Chandler decides to spice things up a notch, and so hires a group of actors to “kidnap” one of the guests as part of a murder-mystery scenario. Unbeknownst to Bateman and company, however, the guys who come in and take Chandler away aren’t actors, and the danger they find themselves in is real. Now, if they want to make it through the night, they’re going to have to find Chandler, and unravel the mystery of what’s really going on.

Game Night is a perfectly fun, perfectly competent bit of escapism. It’s well-shot, the leads have a good rapport with one another, and, unlike a lot of other comedies that come out these days, it is genuinely funny. I saw it in a theater full of people, and they were having the time of their lives. I didn’t laugh much, but that’s more because I’m a person who doesn’t really laugh at films, even if they’re funny. The only movie I ever really laughed at in a theater was Get Out, but that’s another story. Game Night is funny, and if you want to just go to the theater and laugh, you’ll probably be satisfied. And I wasn’t lying when I said the movie was well-shot. The cinematography in this film is actually quite impressive. There’s one sequence in a house where Bateman and McAdams are being chased through all these rooms that’s done in one, continuous shot, and when I saw it, I thought to myself, “wow, that’s good filmmaking right there.” This picture is written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the writing duo responsible for Spiderman: Homecoming, and the upcoming Flashpoint, and watching this flick gave me hope for the latter. So, yeah. Game Night is fun.

But it’s not perfect. I did have problems with the movie. Probably the biggest one I had is Bateman and McAdams themselves. It’s not that they weren’t funny. They were. It’s the fact that that’s pretty much all they were. There really wasn’t anything else to their characters than “competitive couple who make quips.” Yes, there’s a subplot involving her wanting to have kids, and him not being ready, but that’s such a common detail for these kinds of films that it almost doesn’t count. They also do this thing where, no matter what situation they’re in, they act like it’s no big deal. And I understand that that’s kind of the underlying joke, the fact that they don’t understand the danger they’re in, but, after a certain point, they can’t keep doing that. They need to acknowledge the gravity of their situation, and take things seriously. But they never really do. There are several points in this movie where they know that they’re in real danger, and yet, they still make jokes and act like it’s all a game. In one scene, for instance, McAdams literally has to dig a bullet out of Bateman’s arm, and the two are acting like it’s nothing. Why? Why are they so calm? For me to properly express what I’m talking about, I have to compare this to another movie; Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. In that film, they play a married couple who, hoping to reignite the passion that’s been lost in their relationship, go to a fancy restaurant in the city, get mistaken for some criminals, and get pulled into a crazy, action-crime caper. As funny as they both are, there are moments where they show genuine emotion, crying, being scared, and even being tender with one another. There’s a scene in a car where they really let out their feelings, and, to this day, it still gives me chills. Every time I watch it I think, “wow, that was a lot deeper, and considerably better acted, than I would have expected from this kind of a comedy.” There’s no scene like that in Game Night. There are scenes that are like that here, but, either because of the writing, or the fact that McAdams and Bateman just aren’t as good actors as Fey and Carell, don’t carry nearly as much pathos. There are also some annoying secondary characters, like this dumb guy who brings an Irish woman to the party, and who has an obsession with Fight Club, who just got on my nerves. I was dreading whenever he would appear, and I couldn’t wait for the film to cut away from him. That’s not good.

In the end, however, I do think the good in Game Night outweighs the bad. No, it’s not deep or profound, and, no, it’s not particularly memorable. But the cast are funny, and it’s well-made enough to keep you invested for the whole thing. For that reason, I say, give it a look.

Black Panther (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Thousands of years ago, a meteor containing the precious metal vibranium crash-landed in Africa, and, upon finding it, five tribes banded together to create the nation of Wakanda, and used their discovery to become the most technologically advanced civilization on Earth. But, rather than share their knowledge with the world, or help other African peoples when they were being colonized and enslaved, the Wakandans kept to themselves, and even went so far as to kill those who tried to cross their borders. For centuries, the Black Panthers, the rulers of Wakanda, have kept up this tradition. Now, though, the new Black Panther, T’Challa, must decide whether or not he will continue to uphold this practice, as their is an outsider, an American of Wakandan descent, who is challenging him for the throne, and who believes Wakanda should use its technology to help Black people across the globe rise up and take control.

Black Panther is a movie I was very excited for. Not only is it directed by one of my favorite new filmmakers, Ryan Coogler, it’s starring some of my favorite actors, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and its a genre film that touches upon social issues. You might not have noticed, but I’m kind of a sucker for those. So when I sat down in the theater today, I was pumped. I was there. And when I walked out, I was very satisfied. Black Panther is a lot of fun, and I do think you all should see it. In terms of pure craftsmanship, acting, cinematography, costumes, music, I have no complaints whatsoever. This is a gorgeous looking, and sounding, movie. And everyone in the film gives it their all. The stand-outs, for me, are Michael B Jordan as the ruthless, but highly sympathetic villain, Eric, and Danai Gurira as the Wakandan general Okoye. Both give highly memorable, highly charismatic performances. I also like the world this film created, with Wakanda looking absolutely stunning, and I really enjoyed the questions it raises. For all these reasons, I definitely think Black Panther is worth a watch.

That said, I do have problems with the movie. And I realize that, by saying that, I just earned the ire of a substantial portion of the internet. But I don’t care. I want to make movies, and the best way to do that is to learn from the flaws of others, and this film has a few. For starters, there is a long, long stretch where nothing of much import happens. There are a lot of scenes where we basically get told the history of Wakanda, and, while they are necessary to understanding the world, they don’t really advance the plot in any way. Hell, the main plot, Eric coming to Wakanda to claim the throne and begin a global revolution, doesn’t really materialize until about an hour in. That’s a pretty long wait. Now, I do want to be clear and say that that first hour isn’t boring, but, if you cut several subplots out, including a whole sequence in Korea where the heroes chase down Andy Serkis, the movie would be tighter, and more interesting. The conflict between Eric and T’Challa, between new and old, globalism and isolationism, is fascinating, and considerably more compelling than Andy Serkis wanting money. On top of this, T’Challa, the main character, is kind of bland. Part of this has to do with the fact that all of the supporting characters are so interesting, with his sister, Shuri, his general, Okoye, and mother, Ramanda, all being highly charismatic and fun, but it also has to do with the fact that he’s a very passive protagonist. What I mean by that is, in most films, a character actively tries to accomplish a real, tangible thing, like winning a contest, finding a killer, or finishing an art project. In so doing, they realize that they possess a certain flaw, and change. Now when I say they “actively” pursue the goal, I mean they make the first moves, as opposed to just reacting to things. It’s the difference between Raiders Of The Lost Ark, where Indie chooses to go after the ark, and devises several of the strategies for getting it, and Superman: The Movie, where Clark Kent only decides to be a superhero after the ghost of his father tells him to. For a substantial portion of Black Panther, T’Challa doesn’t have a goal. He doesn’t want any one, tangible thing, like an arc, a grail, or the meaning of the word “rosebud.” He just walks around, and responds to what other people tell him. And then, when the main plot does kick in, he still remains highly reactive. Yes, he undergoes a change, realizing after fighting Eric that Wakanda needs to share its technology with the rest of the world, but he himself doesn’t really want anything. And, finally, as impressive as the film is in terms of its acting, cinematography  and music, there are moments here where the CGI is surprisingly bad. In one scene, for instance, Eric and T’Challa are fighting on a train track, and there were moments where they were flipping around that took me out of the picture because of how fake everything looked. And in another scene, T’Challa is gazing up at this cliffside where all these various Wakandan tribes are standing, and it looked like elements that were just copied and pasted onto the frame. Which is disappointing. This film had such a huge budget, and so many talented people working on it that I’m honestly kind of shocked it had such shoddy CGI.

All that said, the good in Black Panther far outweighs the bad. This is a well-acted, beautiful-looking, highly thought-provoking superhero film, which does what I don’t think any superhero film has done before, and that’s tell its story from a distinctly black, distinctly African perspective. For that reason, coupled with some superb performances, I say, go out and see this. You won’t regret it.

Underrated Directors Who Should Totally Helm A Blockbuster

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Directors; to many casual film goers, they are the driving force behind all aspects of a movie. And while those of us who actually work in film, writing scripts, editing footage, mixing sound and so on, know that this isn’t true, it is true that directors can have a huge influence on a picture’s look, tone, and style. And that look and style can attract audiences, and make the pictures better as a whole. Now there are certain directors whose look and style have become well known to the public–the Spielbergs, the Burtons, the Tarantinos–but there are others whose talent is clear when you watch their films but, for whatever reason, they and their work have remained out of the spotlight. I’d like to remedy that today. Here is my list of awesome, underrated directors who should totally helm a blockbuster. Why a blockbuster? Because that’s what most people see, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s the only way most of us will ever hear about these artists.

1. Bong Joon-Ho.

  • What They’ve Done: The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Star Wars Movie.

Perhaps the best-known filmmaker on this list, Bong Joon-Ho is one of my all-time favorite directors, and a household name back in his native Korea. And yet, despite all his critical and commercial success in Asia, he remains relatively unknown in the West. Film nerds have probably watched a few of his flicks, but the vast majority of audiences aren’t familiar with his sumptuous visuals, dark humor, sudden shifts in tone, and biting social commentary, all of which make him ideal to helm a Star Wars movie. Just watch The Host, see how he shoots action, writes villainous characters, and uses creature effects, and tell me you couldn’t see him directing an episode in a galaxy far, far away.

2. Jaume Collet-Serra.

  • What They’ve Done: Non-Stop, The Shallows, Orphan.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A MIssion Impossible Movie.

Best known for his many collaborations with Liam Neeson, Spanish director Jaume Collet Serra has a habit of taking silly genre scripts, and turning them into much better films than they have any right to be. Seriously. If you take a hard look at the plots of any of his features–Unknown, Non-Stop, Orphan–they don’t really hold up. But the films themselves are so well-acted, so beautifully shot, and so viscerally entertaining that you don’t really care. Which makes him an ideal match for the Mission Impossible franchise, which, let’s be honest, isn’t  really famous for having the most believable story lines, but whose insane action set pieces more than make up for that. And let’s not forget, several of Collet-Serra’s flicks, like Unknown, have espionage elements to them. So it’s not altogether out of his wheelhouse.

3. Wes Ball.

  • What They’ve Done: The Maze Runner Trilogy.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Fast & Furious Movie.

Say what you like about the Maze Runner films–I, personally, am not a huge fan–they have amazing action sequences. Even these movies’ harshest critics agree that the chases, the fight scenes, and the stunt work are incredible, and that the director, Wes Ball, has a good eye for action. So what better franchise to put him in than the Fast & Furious, which we all can agree is extremely light on story, but very heavy on amazing set pieces? I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Ball could concoct some truly bonkers action scenes, and give this series’ fans the high octane thrills they crave.

4. Mike Flanagan.

  • What They’ve Done: Oculus, Hush, Gerald’s Game.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Batman Movie.

One of this generations true horror masters, Mike Flanagan’s films work, not just because they’re beautifully shot, and possess ghosts and serial killers, but because of their fascinating explorations of their characters’ pasts and psyches. Gerald’s Game and Oculus are all about people revisiting childhood trauma, and trying to work through it. And if there’s one blockbuster franchise that relishes horror, and childhood trauma, it’s Batman. He’s a tormented character, who just can’t let his past go, and several of his rogues, the Joker, Scarecrow, Two Face, are horrifying manifestations of various mental illnesses. So who better to helm a Batman film than a horror master with an interest in dissecting the minds of damaged people? Well, okay, I’m sure there are loads of filmmakers who’d be totally great for Batman, but Mike Flanagan is at the top of my list.

5. Takashi Miike.

  • What They’ve Done: 13 Assassins, Audition, Ichi The Killer.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Predator Movie.

A prolific and controversial director, whose work I’ve written about before, Takashi Miike is perfectly suited for the Predator franchise. Why? Because just like John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, which began as action, and ended as horror, many of Miike’s films blend genres and tones. Several of his features, like Yakuza Apocalypse and Ichi The Killer, synthesize elements of thrillers and horror. Many more, like Fudoh: The New Generation, Blade Of The Immortal, and Terra Formers, include insane, stylized characters with insane, stylized weapons i.e. the exact kind of fighters that the Predators would want to hunt. And, as if this needs mentioning, Miike is superb at crafting creative, bloody fight sequences, which are precisely what this franchise thrives off of.

Hero (2002)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

In a period of Civil War, a ruthless king is poised to take over all of China. All that stands in his way are three assassins–Long Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow. For 10 years, they have thwarted his efforts, and personally tormented him, to the point where he can neither sleep, nor remove his armor. Now, though, after more than a decade, a Nameless Warrior claims to have slain them all. To see if this is true, the King summons the swordsman to his palace, and ask to hear how he achieved such an impossible feat. As the Nameless Warrior talks, however, the King starts to suspect that he may not be who he says he is, and that he might have ulterior motives for being there.

Hero is colorful, melodramatic, beautifully-choreographed, and surprisingly philosophical. It is a film that I loved when it first came out, and that I can appreciate even more, now that I know about all the effort that goes into movie-making. From a purely technical perspective, it’s perfect. The shot composition, use of color in costumes and sets, editing, music and fight choreography are all flawless. It holds up after 15 years, and for good reason. Every single earthshaking,gravity defying moment was done by actual stuntmen, with practical effects. Yes, it’s all very heightened, but it all looks real. Because it is real. And that makes it so much better. The movie is also surprisingly thought-provoking. Most people go into martial arts films expecting pretty visuals, but not much else. Hero, however, takes a more grounded approach to its storytelling and characterization, and actually has some pretty interesting things to say. At its core is the question of what is more important, the greater good, or personal loyalty, and I, for one, think it handles that topic with both care and insight. All of this can be found in the relationship between Broken Sword and Flying Snow, played by my all-time favorite screen couple, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. They are lovers torn apart by that central question; what’s more important to me, loyalty or good? By the movie’s end, both are left (literally) heartbroken, because of their inability to compromise. Their downfall is both a joy and a torment to watch. And, as always, they’re chemistry is effortless.

Now, with all that said, I’m not above admitting that this film has problems. Some are simple matters of personal taste. Others are larger, and story-related. The biggest, for me, is the fact that you don’t know the characters too well. This is due, in large part, to the fact that we see the same story unfold multiple times, from different perspectives, like in Rashoman. In each version of events, the character’s personalities and goals are changed to fit the views of the teller. In one version, for instance, Broken Sword and Flying Snow are petty, jealous and violent. That’s because the narrator wants us to think they are. In another version, however, they are shown as loving, loyal, and willing to do anything to keep the other safe. That’s because the new narrator views them that way. As such, you don’t get to know the characters very well. Or, at least, not until the end. The dialogue is also very on the nose and melodramatic, with no one sounding like an actual human. Yes, that’s to be expected for a martial arts period piece, but still. The third flaw, and the one that matters most to me, personally,  is the way the film treats Zhang Ziyi’s character. She plays Broken Sword’s assistant, Moon. In one version of events, she is his lover.  Or, rather, in that version, Broken Sword is angry at Flying Snow, and so he more or less rapes Moon to make Snow jealous. Yes, the film implies that Moon has feelings for him, and I suppose that’s meant to make his assault of her slightly less awful. But he does still grab her without warning, throw her to the ground, rip her clothes off, have his way with her, and then kick her out. And the movie does show Moon crying after this, so I’m not sure how to feel. When I first saw this film back in 2004, I was only about 9 years old. I didn’t know what sex, let alone rape, was. And yet, even then, when I watched this scene, I got upset. Something about it felt wrong to me, and it still does, all these years later. It’s my least favorite aspect of an otherwise awesome movie, and if you do watch the film, maybe fast forward through that part.

But, all in all, Hero’s visual brilliance, strong performances, epic score and gripping narrative more than make up for its flaws. And they certainly make the picture, as a whole, worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.