( Max score: 100 )
Master filmmaker Quentin Tarantino presents Hero - starring martial arts legend Jet Li in a visually stunning martial arts epic where a fearless warrior 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. Now, to achieve the justice he seeks, he must take on the empire's most ruthless assassins and reach the enemy he has sworn to defeat!
Hero is a film much like Crouching tiger hidden dragon in that it tells an involving story using a flamboyant and physical visual style steeped in martial arts and larger than life caricatures. The story revolves around a nameless avenger who seeks an audience with the reclusive and elusive emperor. The emperor maintains high level security and a large, methodical army to enforce laws and protect him from would be assassins. Nameless (Li) gains this audience with the emperor because he has single-handedly dispatched a deadly trio of assassins known as Sky (Yen), Flying Snow (Cheung), and Broken Sword (Leung). Two members of the trio attempted to assassinate the emperor, escaped, and have eluded his army. The Emperor is very interested in learning how Nameless was able to pull off such a feat and insists on a detailed explanation of the events that transpired. At this point the film is then told through a series of flashback sequences that intermittently return to present (Nameless and the emperor). First, through Nameless, second through the Emperor, as he details his own suppositions based upon what he has heard from Nameless, and his skepticism as to its authenticity and lastly an additional telling that very well may be what actually happened although it is never really determined. As the story unfolds through each telling/version it changes leaving us with an intricate weave of variability with the potential outcome essentially being the same although even that may be interpretive. The result can be a little frustrating because as each version is depicted it elicits an emotional investment that we entrust to each only to find out that perhaps it never occurred. Frustrating or not it ends up paying dividends thanks to the story's depth, viscerally strong action sequences, fight choreography, cinematography, cast, and capable direction. This is my first experience with Hero and like Crouching Tiger it left me notably impressed and desirous of another viewing.
The rating is for stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality.
Hero comes to Blu-ray from Buena Vista HE/Disney featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 36 mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital surround that have average and constant bitrates of 4.5 mbps and 640 kbps respectively.
This high definition presentation has a light grainy and filmic quality that doesn't lend itself to razor sharp clarity and three dimensional depth. Wide angle shots tend to offer clear definition with fair but limited visual depth. Close-ups and mid level shots reveal better refinement with appreciable nuance and texture. Filtering and clever use of color combine to give it a stylized/period look with certain segments bathed in mood creating monochromatic hues. Secondary colors tend to be limited to sepia/earth tones and grays that aren't overly vivid but do appear natural and delineated. Primary colors are cleanly rendered and pop quite nicely when onscreen. Blacks are deep and rich, with excellent dynamic range that gives them discerning visual depth. Contrast is strong without compromise to fidelity. Shadow delineation is equally impressive which provides good image penetration during segments containing limited lighting. During the sequence in chapter 10 as Broken Sword and Snow storm the palace I noticed what appeared to be digital noise in the backdrop of the green curtains (?) as they swayed to and fro in the background. I didn't detect any other obvious signs of video related anomalies or artifacts and thought that this encoding looked solid..
This Blu-ray disc is presented with Chinese lossy Dolby Digital and English dubbed DTS-HD Master Audio sound options. I have no idea why a Chinese DTS-HD MA language track wasn't included. Personally I prefer to watch with the original language tracks rather than dubbed as I find it too distracting. In this case I ended up splitting between the two in order to evaluate the lossless audio quality as well as being able to enjoy the film. In either case I found this to be a superb and fairly aggressive surround mix that offers impressive sound quality. This is a notably complex sound design that utilizes the entire system to effectively create an enveloping atmosphere that is brimming with directional and discretely placed sound effects. Panning sequences are delivered with seamless precision which makes for a cohesive 360 degree soundfield. Dynamics are powerful and deliver authoritative impact and clearly articulated audio that allows all of the sonic detail inherent with the soundtrack to be detectable. Low frequency effects provide room energizing bass that is clean, extended and tactilely efficient. Tan Dun's beautiful music has a potent and visceral feel that is enhanced by the soundtracks impressive dynamic quality. Dialogue is rendered with good tonal variation and clarity through the center channel however during busier audio segments lacks prominence within the front soundstage. That minor complaint aside I thought this was a terrific sounding audio presentation.
Hero is a wonderfully executed and exciting film that combines intrigue, drama, and incredibly entertaining and intricate martial arts choreography. I found its presentation on Blu-ray Disc to be good but not without room for improvement. Its strongest attribute is its soundtrack but that is tainted by the strange decision to only offer an English dubbed lossless audio option. The bonus supplements include a Digital Copy and Blu-ray exclusive features but the content is only mildly interesting. Whether or not to pick this up will largely depend how eager you are to upgrade your current version. I would imagine that this presentation will best the previous DVD release and is worthy of consideration. If you have never seen Hero I highly recommend you through it in the queue and give it a spin.