August 29, 2004

A Beautiful but Troubling Message

Last night two thirds of bloodless coup went to the movies to see Hero, the new Jet Li film that is out in theaters. New to the U.S. actually, since it is actually a 2002 film. The first thing I will say, is go see this movie now, while its on the big screen. This movie is visually stunning, and using shifts in color to not only set the mood but to lead the viewer into alternate storylines. There is one scene where a mass of blacked robed chancellors to the king cluster and move in such a way as to look like a predatory flock of crows. Another finds falling and dancing leaves swirling in a force of nature in sync with an assassin's swordplay. It's just beautiful, and I don't see how it could possibly translate to the small screen. The beauty of the film aside, there were some elements of the film that were troubling. This film is an epic aout the founding of a nation, and the uniting of diverse peoples. While it shows subtlety of interpretation of political motives and actions, it also presents - fairly unquestioningly - a view that unification by force at the cost of many lives is necessary (not even a necessary evil) and that the collective benefit of a potentially far-off peace is worth the silencing of individual and even regional identities. Granted we are dealing with historical subject matter, but I couldn't help thinking about how the glorification of this message - and the movie does glorify it - might play in Taiwan today. The other disturbing thing about watching this film had to do with its screening in small town USA. I was impressed at the number of people who turned out at the local mall to see a film with subtitles, though I suspect some of them might have expected more of what I would call an "ass-kicking" Jet Li movie. For all the beauty of the film, the technically stunning sword fights, the thundering battle troops, and intense political and rhetorical dance between the Hero and the King, there was only once scene that caused a crowd reaction. This was a scene in which a spurned lover takes revenge on his allegedly cheating spouse by roughly bedding their servant, and once he is sure he and the servant have been seen in the act and the emotional wound to his lover has been struck, he abruptly sends the young servant girl packing, having fulfilled her usefullness. The scene is truly painful for each of the three feels the injustice that has been done, and the betrayal of love and duty that has just occurred. The theater - or more accurately, a sizable proportion of the male audience -erupted in cheers, and "you tell her"s and the like. It was appalling that the only thing that could bring a reaction (and I'm talking about no gasps, no sniffles, no cheering for our Hero when he won a swordfight, nothing) was that scene, and that the reaction to it was so crass in its misinterpretation and enjoyment of the "kick her to the curb" moment. Posted by binky at August 29, 2004 12:03 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Movies


thankfully, the pittsburgh audience was a little more sophisticated. i have little to add to your review, except to add that i doubt this is a runaway box office hit in tibet, either. i also can't help but wonder whether we've entered a new phase in tarantino's career, in which he allows others to use his name to endorse and increase the viewership of propaganda.

still and all, a feast for the eyes. can't wait for house of daggers.

Posted by: joshua at August 31, 2004 10:35 AM | PERMALINK
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