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The Perfect Balance

Hero is not your typical Hong Kong action flick. It's more of an art film in disguise. With gorgeous imagery and a saturated color palette, it is a near meditation on beauty than anything else. Of course, there are also a good deal of superbly choreographed fight scenes. It's like a two for one deal -- pay for epic battle scenes and you get the fine art for free.

It's sometime in third century B.C.E. and 'China' consists of seven kingdoms ruling and fighting over the land. One of these kingdoms, Qin, is led by a king (Chen Dao Ming) who is ruthlessly trying to unite the other kingdoms into one 'land under Heaven'. As the saying goes, "The end justifies the means." Well, the bloody means here have pissed off a fair number of people, including three assassins known as Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony "I'm hot and I can act" Leung Chiu-wai, quite possibly the best looking actor ever) and Snow (Maggie "Could I be any more fabulous?" Cheung Man-yuk).

Jet Li (the new Jackie Chan) plays a nameless warrior heralded for his killing of the three assassins. As he iterates his incredulous defeat of these skilled masters to the King, the tale begins to take on a life of its own. The King soon realizes that there is more to the tale than the warrior is confessing and what ensues is a grand story told through several different perspectives; each perspective with its own lush color scheme and twist.

Director Zhang Yimou brings a fresh perspective to a genre flooded with monotonous look-alikes. He successfully translates onto the screen his heady artistic vision: beautifully choreographed fighting scenes framed within intricately developed shots. Paired with an all-star cast and a script which requires the viewer having to actually pay attention, Hero seems to have it all. The most striking aspect of the movie, besides the highly-stylized fight scenes similar to that of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but better, is the artful, almost delicate cinematography so rarely found in action movies.

This should come as no surprise, however, as Christopher Doyle (Chungking Express, Happy Together, In The Mood for Love) is the cinematographer. He's director Wong Kar-Wai's cinematographer of choice, and anyone who has ever seen one of his indelible films will know that they are beauty personified. Practically every shot in In The Mood for Love was a romance imbued snapshot reverberating with sensuality and the inner turmoil of the characters.

The same goes for Hero. There are visuals to feast upon for the aesthete, epic fighting scenes for the action buff and plot galore for drama lovers. There's a whole lot of everything for everyone.

Stars: 4 out of 5