Hero (Ying Xiong) (2002)

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Released 15-Mar-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-HERO Defined
Storyboards
Featurette-InsideThe Action:A ConversationWithQuentinTarantino&Jet Li
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 95:21
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:11) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Yimou Zhang
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Jet Li
Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Maggie Cheung
Ziyi Zhang
Daoming Chen
Donnie Yen
Liu Zhong Yuan
Zheng Tia Yong
Yan Qin
Chang Xiao Yang
Zhang Ya Kun
Ma Wen Hua
Jin Ming
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Dun Tan


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Hero is a bold, action filled epic from director Zhang Yimou, who recently brought us the excellent House Of Flying Daggers. The styles of these films is similar, with superb costumes, nail-biting action scenes, vast scenery, beautiful cinematography and inspiring direction. Hero is his first action film and a far cry from his earlier, more dramatic work such as Raise The Red Lantern. If you enjoy martial arts films in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Iron Monkey then it's likely you will appreciate Hero.

    Set in China's warring states period 2000 years ago, Jet Li is a nameless warrior who has been tracking three assassins that have threatened the king on many occasions. Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen) are a formidable trio with exceptional skills, so it's not surprising that the king is feeling threatened. News travels to the royal palace that the nameless warrior has defeated all three assassins, so by decree he is summoned to sit before the king and share in some spoils. Naturally the king asks how he did it, and the story unfolds in flashback style as nameless reveals his method in exploiting a love triangle that existed between the assassins, making them emotional and irrational, unable to fight with any coherency.

    But, the king is sharper than he is credited for and picks away at nameless' story until the truth is revealed. After all, he had met his assassins years before and knew that they were far too focussed and professional to be distracted by a bit of drama. When his true intentions are revealed, nameless must decide the best course of action to benefit his increasingly unstable country, crippled by war and poverty. A country on the brink of unification and waiting for a hero.

    At its time of release, Hero was the most expensive film to come from China. Production began in 1998 and the story was scripted in 24 months of rewrite after rewrite. The scale of this production is huge and every frame is a sight to behold. This is a film literally overflowing with memorable scenes and amazingly colourful imagery. The action and fight choreography is equally dazzling and marks the reunion of martial arts stars Jet Li and Donnie Yen, their first film together since 1992's Once Upon A Time In China 2.

    It's been a long time coming to Region 4 and if you're a fan of Asian cinema you've probably seen this film years ago. If you haven't seen it, you're missing one of the greatest films to come out of China.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is presented in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement.

    The level of sharpness is very good, however it does appear to drop a little during scenes that contain CGI. For example, check the scenes that involve volleys of arrows and observe the surrounding loss of resolution. The fight scene between Snow and Moon also contains CGI but suffers less from this problem. Detail in most scenes is excellent, as evidenced by the textures of costumes and shots of vast scenery. There isn't a lot of dark scenes to speak of in this film since most of the action takes place in the daytime and is very bright in most respects. Black levels appear deep and realistic with no signs of noise.

    This film's colouring is integral to the story and also makes for epic viewing. Take for example the scenes in the calligraphy school - almost everything in shot is a shade of red, even the sand. Other scenes are rendered in a similar way using greens, blues and oranges - such a distinctive and visually stimulating quality. The use of colour is one of the most memorable elements of this film for me. The transfer is bold and bright, with no colour inconsistencies to speak of.

    MPEG compression issues are nowhere to be seen. Artefacts relating to the film source are prevalent in the form of tiny specks here and there and are barely visible. I noted what appears to be a tiny hair during the film's opening scenes, but besides a little film grain that is the extent of the transfer problems.

    A selectable English subtitle stream is provided and flows accurately with the dialogue. The font is comprised of bold white lettering with a thin black outline and is very easy to read.

    This disc is dual layered (DVD9 formatted), with a layer transition placed during the feature at 64:11. The layer change was completely transparent on my system, but appears to be placed in an appropriate moment in the film so as not to be too obtrusive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks available, one of which is an English descriptive audio track. The default soundtrack is English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s), and the film's original Mandarin language is also provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s). When the disc is inserted, a language select menu appears which strangely does not list the Mandarin soundtrack, only the two English options. Thinking that the original language was not provided, I first viewed the disc with the default English dub (a very rare occurrence for me), then later switched to the original Mandarin audio for my second viewing. The English and Mandarin soundtracks have some subtle differences, but both are excellent. In order to access the Mandarin soundtrack you can either change on the fly or select it manually from the setup menu, via the main menu.

    The dialogue in these soundtracks is clear and distinct at all times. The English dub follows lip movements as vaguely as one would expect and employs some effects to give the dialogue a feel appropriate to the scene and consistent with the surroundings. I don't speak a word of Mandarin, but the dialogue appears to be be perfectly in sync with the actor's lip movements and doesn't suffer from any obvious ADR glitches.

    The use of the surround channels is reserved for atmospherics and some Foley effects, as well as some passages of the score. At 8:28 water drips in the rears fairly consistently and helps to place the viewer in the scene. More aggressive usage can be heard at 21:03 as arrows fly overhead and from left and right. The subtle rustling of leaves at 37:42 is another great effect. Voices are generally confined to the frontal soundstage and don't stray to the rears.

    The English soundtrack lacks a bit of punch and I quickly found that I needed to really crank it up to achieve a desirable effect. The Mandarin on the other hand is much more balanced and mastered at a slightly higher volume, with greater depth from the Foley effects and a more enveloping soundstage. I also noticed a bit more brightness in the Mandarin audio, evident in the soundtrack score most of all. The film's original Mandarin soundtrack is without a doubt the best way to go.

    This is only the second descriptive audio track I have reviewed and it is a little different. A female voice is used for narrative purposes, while a male voice relays most of the dialogue. Both of the voices have British accents and are very clear. The background audio is the film's original Mandarin soundtrack and although it can be heard most of the time the effects are very thin in comparison to the other soundtrack options. This descriptive audio option is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (192Kb/s). It did not respond favourably to Pro Logic processing.

    The film's score is credited to Tan Dun and is literally as ambitious as the film itself. Many different styles are at play, from conventional orchestrations to complex rhythms and percussive interludes. During the more serene moments the score flows with a parallel mood, usually a single instrument in solo. In the making of on this DVD, Tan says he wanted to feel the colours of the film in his music, and he certainly succeeded. This score is a seamless component of the film, highly memorable and very, very good.

    As I established above, I found the subwoofer to be more prevalent in the Mandarin soundtrack, however in the right moments it is felt in the English dub as well. The galloping of horses hooves at 19:30 is a standout, while the huge thud of many arrows landing en masse at 87:29 really shakes your fillings. The LFE channel is used only occasionally, however it is effective.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The main menu page is preceded by a language select menu that neglects to list the Mandarin audio. The main menu features a nice intro and is animated with some scenes from the film. All of the content is 16x9 enhanced, unless otherwise noted. Any non-English dialogue is subtitled.

Featurette - HERO Defined (24:00)

    This Making Of covers a lot of ground, introducing the key cast and crew and covering most aspects of the production. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle discusses his role in the production and composer Tan Dun guides us through the scoring and recording process. Director Zhang Yimou talks about the compromises that are needed in his role and how he has learned to choose his battles when it comes to directing. Many of the actors are not trained in martial arts, which also presented some challenges to the production. In closing, director Zhang Yimou sums up the key images he wants the audience to retain in their memory after seeing the film. He is clearly very proud of Hero, and rightly so.

Storyboards (5:17)

    Presented in a 1.33:1 frame, each of these storyboard comparisons is accompanied by a clip from the film's score. The storyboard sketches are placed on top, with the corresponding scene from the film playing underneath. The video quality isn't great, but it serves as an interesting insight into the film's pre-production. Four instantly recognisable scenes from the film are included; Golden Forest, Library, Ring of Iron and Lake. These are playable individually or via a play all function.

Featurette - Inside The Action: A Conversation With Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li (13:55)

    Produced by Miramax, this short featurette begins with Quentin and Jet Li chatting together casually about his career. Tarantino is a big martial arts fan and discusses many aspects of action filmmaking with Li, particularly his past films Fist of Legend and The Legend 1 and The Legend 2. Some short excerpts from Li's films are shown, followed by some footage behind the scenes on the set of Hero. The conversation also touches upon Kill Bill and Li's rematch with Donnie Yen - a fan favourite apparently. Although it is brief, this is an interesting overview of Jet Li's career so far.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Region 4 appears to be the last region to receive a DVD release of this film. Our Region 4 release is identical to the Region 2 PAL disc by Buena Vista, even down to the menu graphics. The Region 1 disc by Miramax is very similar, but contains some additional features:

    Some reviews of the Region 1 Miramax release are not very positive, citing an overly brightened image that washes out the bold colouring in the film.

    The Japanese Region 2 release by Elite is comprised of two discs and contains an additional Japanese dubbed soundtrack. English subtitles are included and the transfer is very highly spoken of, with a constant MPEG bitrate of 8.5Mb/s. Unfortunately though, none of the additional featurettes on disc two are English subtitled.

    There are a number of Region 3 releases. EDKO Video have a two disc version (NTSC) with the following extras (no English subtitles):

    Guang Dong Video have two releases in Region 3 (NTSC), both of which are coded for all regions and contain Mandarin DTS audio. The single disc edition only contains the Hero Defined featurette. The two disc version is apparently extended, and contains the following extras:

    The featurette and booklet are in Chinese with no English translation. Reviews of this transfer suggest that the image quality is bad, with poor detail and inconsistent colour rendering. The exact nature of the extensions to this cut are unclear - while there are some additional scenes there are also some excised portions of the film.

    It's difficult to recommend another region when most include extras without English subtitling. DTS audio would be nice, but at the expense of an inferior image? No thank you. Having not seen the Japanese transfer it's hard to say, but I'm content with the Region 4 disc for now.

Summary

    Hero is an epic storytelling of events that led to the unification of China 2000 years ago. The direction and cinematography are breathtaking, with some images that I could only describe as visual poetry. Performances are excellent and the swordplay action is amazing.

    The video transfer is great.

    The audio transfer is missing a dts option, but at least the original language is here.

    The extras are worthwhile viewing and the best you'll find for English speakers.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Monday, March 21, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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Comments (Add)
Argh. The video quality is NOT worth 4.5 stars. - REPLY POSTED
EDKO Video R2 is in DTS-ES 6.1 NTSC - Pendergast (Why not take a look at my bio, you might think it stinks.) REPLY POSTED
political -
RE - Argh. The video quality is NOT worth 4.5 stars. - Anonymous - donsrule
It's not just image, it's the subtitles -
Re: it's not just image... -
DTS-ES -
RE:its not just image.... -
Video quality Not the best -
Re:Argh. The video quality is NOT worth 4.5 stars -
subtitles indeed... -
Deleted scenes & edits in US/Aust release -
I hear you Film Guru -
Re:Subtitles indeed -
Hero - Prometheus
Czech edition of Hero in Mandarin DTS (Region 2) - Andrea
Hero HD DVD in Germany - Andrea
Korean release -
Directors Cut - Stimpy (da, what's a bio Ren?)
Thought it was awesome.... -