My love affair with world cinema began nearly a decade ago when I watched French hit, Amelie (2001). Previously I had been reluctant to watch any film with subtitles, worried that it would hinder my enjoyment of the film. How wrong was I to be so naive? Since Amelie I have spent more time in the world cinema section at HMV than any other part of the shop and enjoyed a range of films from South America, Africa, Europe and East Asia. Discussing all my favourites would take many blogs but over the next ten days I will share what are currently, for me, the Top Ten World Cinema films. The standard of world cinema is very high with such gems as Ikiru (1952) and Let The Right One In (2008) missing out on the Top Ten. For those of you that haven’t tried world cinema I hope some of these films will be of interest. Those of you that are veterans in this field, I’m sure you won’t agree with all of my choices but I’ve no doubt you’ll appreciate a celebration of what is often an overlooked section in DVD shops.
The first of two films in this list by acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, Hero is based on a period of ancient Chinese history when the country was divided into warring kingdoms. The most powerful of the kingdoms, Qin, is the setting for Hero as the king is visited by a Nameless Warrior (Jet Li) who claims to have killed three assassins that have kept the king awake each night – Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen). Allowed to approach to within ten paces of the king, the Nameless Warrior gives an account of how he came to defeat the three assassins that the king’s entire army could not even wound.
Zhang Yimou’s film is a visual dream, full of stunning effects, a vibrant array of colourful settings, jaw dropping scenery and an intriguing storyline. The film begins with the Nameless Warrior’s arrival at the palace of the King of Qin and his careful escort to the throne. As the Nameless Warrior recalls his encounters with the three assassins we are treated to some memorable exchanges. Facing Sky, the Nameless Warrior fights his opponent in a courtyard with rain trickling from the rooftops, while a blind man plays music in the background. Their brief stand-off while the music continues is one of the highlights as the two opponents close their eyes and picture the battle in their minds. Later in the film the Nameless Warrior and Broken Sword fight on a stunning lake with both men running on the surface of the tranquil water. Yimou’s love of colour can also be found in Flying Snow’s battle with Broken Sword’s apprentice, Moon (Zhang Ziyi) as they face off in an autumnal forest with the brown and yellow leaves swirling in powerful gusts of wind.
There are few characters in Hero but the main six who are involved in proceedings each have their own loyalties and motivations. The Nameless Warrior’s tale of his encounter with the three assassins is completed before the film is halfway through leaving the King of Qin with many questions. Nothing is what it seems in Hero and what really happened is very different to what the Nameless Warrior initially conveys. As the truth of each character is revealed the film once again appears to follow a straightforward course without any twists or turns waiting in the wings, but as Hero reaches its climax there is one more insight that comes to the surface and leaves the film’s resolution in the hands of the Nameless Warrior.
The ending will keep you guessing and the outcome will likely surprise the audience given the Nameless Warrior’s unwavering focus on his duty. A more thrilling experience than the much lauded Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero also offers a reflection of a divided China, before the first Emperor had even ruled the united land. The fights in ancient China’s history were unlikely to have been as beautiful as the ones here but Hero still provides a fascinating background to China before its unification.
Top Ten so far:-
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