HERO (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 13, 2009 by  

“‘Enchantingly beautiful, artistic, poetic and a wonderful martial arts film.   Featuring a film directed by world renown Zhang Yimou, cinematography by Christopher Doyle and starring Asia’s top cinema talents, ‘HERO’ is one of those films that stays in your mind because of it’s storyline and awesome visuals.   A beautiful film enhanced even more through its High Definition transfer on Blu-ray but misses greatness without the original Chinese soundtrack in HD.

Images courtesy of © WDSHE. All Rights Reserved.


DURATION: 99 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD (48 kHz/24-bit), Original Chinese, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY:  Miramax Films

RATED: PG-13 (for Stylized Martial Arts Violence and a Scene of Sensuality)

Release Date: September 15, 2009

Directed by Yimou Zhang

Written by Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang

Executive Producer: Shoufang Dou, Weiping Zhang

Producer: William Kong, Yimou Zhang

Line Producer: Philip Lee

Associate Producer: Zhenyan Zhang

Music by Tan Dun

Cinematography by Christopher Doyle

Edited by Anglie Lam, Vincent Lee, Ru Zhai

Production Design: Tingxiao Huo, Zhenzhou Yi

Art Direction: Qin Hong Bo, Zhong Han, Tingxiao Huo, Liu Yong Qi, Bin Zhao

Costume Design by Emi Wada


Jet Li as Nameless

Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Broken Sword

Maggie Cheung as Flying Snow

Ziyi Zhang as Moon

Daoming Chen as Kin of Qin

Donnie Yen as Sky

Liu Zhong Yuan as Scholar

This visually stunning cinematic masterpiece gies you the definitive Blu-ray High Definition experience with its spectacular and theater quality sound.

Master filmmaker Quentin Tarantino presents Hero – starring martial arts legend Jet Li as a fearless warrior who rises up to defy an empire and unite a nation.  With supernatural skill – and no fear- a nameless soldier (Jet Li) embarks on a mission of revenge against the fearsome army that massacred his people.  Acclaimed by critics and honored with numerous awards, Hero was an Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film, 2002) and Golden Globe nominee.

Beautiful, artistic, poetic…an enchanting martial arts film that will captivate you with every scene!

These are the words I feel about “HERO”, the 2002 film directed by Zhang Yimou (“Curse of the Golden Flower”, “The House of Flying Daggers” and “Happy Times”) and a film that would feature cinematography by Christopher Doyle (“Chungking Express”, “In the Mood For Love”, “Fallen Angels”, “Happy Together”) and music by composer Tan Dan (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “The Legend of the Black Scorpion”).

The film would also star Asia’s top talents which include Jet Li (“The Warlords”, “Fearless”, “Once Upon a Time in China”, “Fist of Legend”), Tony Leung Chiu Wai (“Lust, Caution”, “Red Cliff”, “Tokyo Raiders”, “Infernal Affairs”), Maggie Cheung (“Ashes of Time”, “Sausalito”, “In the Mood for Love”, “Comrades: Almost a Love Story”),  Daoming Chen (“Peace Blossom”, “My 1919”, “Infernal Affairs III”), Zhang Ziyi (“House of Flying Dagger”, “My Wife is a Gangster”, “Musa the Warrior”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and Donnie Yen (“All’s Well, End’s Well”, “Iron Monkey”, “Flash Point” and “Bodyguards and Assassins”).

The film which was Hong Kong’s most expensive film at the time, was critically acclaimed, won several awards and eventually would make over $178 million worldwide in the box office.

“HERO” is a film broken up into three arcs.  The first arc revolves around a man known as “Nameless” who is dedicated to King of Qin and has killed the top assassins known as Sky(Donnie Yen) and the duo known as Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung).  The King of Qin wants to hear from nameless on how he was able to do such a thing and also tells Nameless about his goal as King and what he wants to accomplish.  The film takes part during a time when King of Qin (Chen Daoming) was conquering lands and his goal was to unify China and to follow one leadership and one language.  Once he is able to conquer the country in all four corners, he can be the first Emperor of China.

The second arc features the King of Qin and Nameless.  Not believing Nameless’s story at all and the King of Qin offers his belief on how Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow were killed and believes nameless was working with them and accusing him of being a fourth assassin.  We also learn about how the King of Qin himself went against Broken Sword and what happened during their confrontation.

The third arc features the actual truth of what happened between Nameless and the assassins and a surprising conclusion to the film.

Saying anything else can spoil each arc, so I will leave my summary quite vague as is and hope you take my word of how beautiful this film truly is.

“HERO” is presented on a two-ray Blu-ray disc with one being the primary Blu-ray and the other being a digital copy version of the film.  Also, the Blu-ray also comes in a slipcase.


“HERO” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1) and suffice to say, this film just looks incredible.  It’s one of the most significant qualities of this film is its artistic direction, costume design, set design, location and most of all, the cinematography of Christopher Doyle.

Personally, I have always have seen Christopher Doyle as an avant-garde cinematographer since he worked on Wong Kar Wai’s “Chungking Express” and suffice to say, his amazing cinematography and the tight editing really pulled the artistic vision of director Zhang Yimou to new heights.

Picture quality is vibrant.  Very vibrant and color plays a big part in this film.  Grain is seen on the film and I’m glad to see that Walt Disney has again kept with that and not gone the excessive DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) route.  But for a film that came out back in 2002, is it a reference film on Blu-ray?  Not really.  But it does look very good.  Part of the main reason is that despite the film being shot in beautiful locations and costume design and the colors really enhance the look of the film, it’s no super clear, nor is it reference quality compared to recently released films on Blu-ray but still, “HERO” is just absolutely magnificent to watch.

As for audio quality, this is where it pains me to give it slightly less than perfect score.  The film is presented with an English 5.1 DTS-HD losless audio track but the original Chinese language is only in Dolby Digital 5.1 (along with the Spanish and French).  For a film of this caliber, I was hoping there would be a lossless audio track for the Chinese language but unfortunately, it’s not.

But for some, I know it’s a dealbreaker for some that the original language is not in lossless audio but the English version is and to be fair, I will say that the English dubwork is very good for this film.  For earlier DVD releases, Asian films released in the US had terrible English dubbing but I will say that “HERO” turned out very well.

For audio, sounds such as the rains, swords clanging, arrows zipping through air… this is all captured quite well on the DTS-HD lossless audio track and sounds great.  For the most part, audio is front and central channel driven with dialogue, music and sound effects but many of the soundtracks do utilize the surround channels.   Again, I wish the original language was in lossless but for those who enjoyed the dubwork, you will be pleased by the DTS-HD audio.

As for subtitles, subtitles are presented in English SDH, French and Spanish.


“HERO” comes with the following special features (in 480i, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles):

  • Close-Up of a Fight Scene – (9:18) The secrets of the fighting choreography of “HERO”.  Quentin Tarentino, Jet Li and Donni Yuen discuss the fighting choreography.  Also, storyboard and fighting scene comparisons.  (Note: Some of the footage is the same as the one used on the main featurette).
  • Hero Defined – (24:01) The Director and talent on their experiences of working on the film and the challenges they faced.  Also, how locations were selected and what took place before the shooting of the film, during and after.
  • Storyboards – (5:19) A side-by-side (or more like top-and-bottom) comparison of the storyboards and final feature.
  • Inside the Action.  A Conversation with Quentin Tarentino and Jet Li – (13:55) Jet Li is interviewed by Quentin Tarentino about his past films and working on “Hero”.
  • Soundtrack Spot – (:39) commercial spot for the “Hero” soundtrack.

“HERO” is a film that really distinguishes itself from other martial arts film due to its artistic style, wonderful cinematography, well-chosen locations and of course, having a talented director and top talents of HK cinema definitely helps as well.

For the most part, “HERO” was definitely one of those films that you can remember for many years later for its scenes.  From the vibrancy of the colors used, the battle scene on top of the lake (which Director Zhang Yimou wanted perfect still waters and didn’t mind waiting to film when it happened), the thousands of arrowheads attacking the art school, there is simply many scenes that are just memorable.

Sure, “HERO” is a beautiful film known for its cinematography, its talent, its location but what about the storyline?  The story of “HERO” is good but not great.  Where a film like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is one of those films that captured beauty through its storyline, “HERO” definitely relies on the visuals to enhance the storyline.  Because the film is split up into three arcs with three different stories of what took place, it’s all about how the viewer interprets that storyline and how that storyline touches their soul.

Personally, I have found “HERO” almost like a piece of art.  You embrace everything that went on to create that artistic piece.  From its characters as Jet Li and Donnie Yen are just fantastic when they battle each other during their scene.  You know that when these two are together onscreen, you’re going to get a beautiful, captivating scene with the best fighting choreography.  When you see Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Chung, you know that these two have awesome chemistry and that they can bring out the more dramatic scenes and even during their fighting scenes, everything seems believable and the two enforce the vibrancy and color of the film.  The same goes with Zhang Ziyi who brings the more emotional scenes to the film.

But is the Blu-ray release perfect?  Unfortunately, it misses the mark of perfection due to the Blu-ray not including a lossless audio track for the Chinese language.  I was so excited about “HERO” on Blu-ray and it’s a given, we are going to get awesome picture quality because it’s a colorful and vibrant film.  You know that the scene between Falling Snow vs. Moon with its rich red colors and yellow leaves is going to be absolutely brilliant on HD or the scene when Broken Sword and Falling Snow wear these blue outfits or their green outfits and you know that color is going to look great on Blu-ray.  But along with that awesome picture quality, you want awesome audio.

The English dub is definitely one of the better English dubs for an Asian film and the lossless audio track was very good.  But I was torn by wanting to watch the film in its original language but knowing that the audio quality of the Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 was nowhere near the 5.1 DTS-HD English track.  For a fan of this film, for me…it was bittersweet.

So, overall “HERO” is definitely a wonderful film to catch on Blu-ray and it’s great to see Disney give this release a digital copy as well.  But for the most part, “HERO” could have been a great release but without the Chinese audio track in HD, it ends up being a very good release.

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