Photo Matt likes Hero. It is a good film, but I would have to issue some caveats in my recommendation. Spoilers follow:
I have never seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, so I have nothing but 1970s kung-fu movies to compare this to. Visually, this film is awesome. Many people have made a comparison to The Matrix, which I think is apt. Plotwise, the film is also outstanding. The plot is non-linear, but still easy to understand. It is subtle enough that if you do not already know the story (I learnt it in 9th grade World History Honors, but had obviously forgotten it by the time I watched the movie in May) behind the movie, you will be surprised.
By this time, some of this blog's more impatient readers must be chafing with discomfort. "But Martey," they ask their computer screens, "what was wrong with Hero, then?"
The political message. By the end of the film, the audience has been shown that what we assumed were the heroic acts that give the movie its name are simply a part of an ingenious conspiracy to kill the Emperor. The "Nameless One," played by Jet Li, is not really a hero, but just insanely good at martial arts. Now, the revenge that he planned for years is at hand. He has the Emperor in his grasp, and...
...he does not kill him, because this Emperor is "the First Emperor," who will unite China, allowing it to become a wonderful civilization. The hero's greatest act is allowing the Emperor to kill him, instead.
All very touching, but here in America, individualism and freedom are valued more than authority and security ("They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety," etc., etc.). The concept that a political leader would have such an imposing presence that simply by being near him, you would convert to his viewpoint seems completely alien and strange. Do not get me wrong; I think it was possible that Hero could have satisified me with the same ending, but there needed to be more explanation. Throughout the movie, we learn that the armies of the Emperor have marched against at least two other Chinese kingdoms, crushing the inhabitants. We never see any suggestion that this is wrong. Although all of the Nameless One's kith and kin have been cruely slaughtered, the time he spends talking to the Emperor convinces him that the world would be a better place if the murderer of his entire family lives. Previously, another of the assassins is on the verge of killing the Emperor when he comes to the same conclusion and runs away. It is as if by having the Emperor within their power, they are fulfilled.
I would like to think that is the real message of Hero - it is best to seek an existentialist triumph over authority instead of the crude destruction of it. However, everyone who opposes the Emperor has a violent end, while Shi Huangdi eventually passes away from old age. While existentialist victory might make you feel better at the moment, wait until hundred of arrows come flying at you. I bet he wished he had used those martial arts skills when he had the chance, instead of lying there on the cobblestones, feeling his lifeblood seep away.