(R) 4 1/2 stars

(R) 4 1/2 stars
Gorgeous visuals, incredible fight scenes, evocative music and a rock solid story about the nature of heroism. What more do you want? Oh, and if you have no interest in examining the nature of heroism, you still should go. Hero looks and sounds so good that, even if you hated the story, it would be worth the price of a ticket just to look at the screen and listen to the music. While more grounded than the airy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang Yimou's epic is just as eye-popping, just as spectacular. I'm not kidding around here. As I give you the basics of the plot, remind yourself, it's worth the price of admission just for the sights, sounds and fighting. Then, don't be too surprised when the story draws you in as well. The story takes place in China in 3 B.C., where three legendary assassins are after the king of Qin (Chen Daoming). A county sheriff (Jet Li) known as Nameless arrives at the palace with proof that he has killed the men. Suspicious of such an outlandish claim, the king asks for details and we watch the stories, each with its own color scheme. Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk (In the Mood for Love) play assassins (and former lovers) Broken Sword and Flying Snow. Zhang Ziyi is Moon, Leung's servant whose devotion masks her love for him. Once the stories are told, the king has some surprising words for the diminutive sheriff. Credit Christopher Doyle for the fantastic cinematography, which incorporates some truly amazing sections of rural China. The fantastic Kodo Drummers provide thunder to Tan Dun's musical score, and Itzhak Perlman adds his own magic. As for the cast, I best enjoyed Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk as the assassins and former honey bunnies. Jet Li is Jet Li, just a little more solemn this time around. Fans should enjoy seeing him square off against action star Donnie Yen (Blade II, Shanghai Knights). My favorite part of Hero? It's the brevity. The film is only two hours long, yet it tells a massive story and tells it well. Great job all around.

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