"What smog? It's a harmless mist!"
Feng Li, Bin Wang, and Yimou Zhang, 2002
So, here we have a movie that is unashamedly pro-tyranny. It's from
China. I can't wait for the sequel, in which it turns out that the
characters' magical powers stem from constant inhalation of a thick
haze of invigorating industrial pollutants.
I'll give Hero this — pretty much every frame is
eye-poppingly gorgeous. Consider Pattern 3
fulfilled. We're talking about a movie in which a pair of beautiful
women in bright gossamer robes spinning through the air as a kaleidoscope
of autumn leaves swirl around them is one of the low-key parts.
Unfortunately, we're also talking about a movie in which those women are
trying to stab each other to death. Because it's a martial arts movie.
And as I noted in my Kill Bill writeup a
few years back, I think the fundamental concept of the martial arts
genre — ie, the aestheticization of violence — is
abhorrent. Violence is bad, mmkay? Therefore I'm going to object to
anything that tries to make it more palatable.
I mean, what kind of world are we living in when you have a popular
genre, martial arts, dedicated to making the spectacle of people trying
to kill each other as pretty as possible, and at the same time you have
an even more popular genre, porn, dedicated to taking what is inherently
one of the most wonderful, uplifting experiences in life and making it
grotesque? Imagine if we switched things up: made violent films on a
twenty-dollar budget by getting heroin addicts to hit each other in the
face with shovels in front of a camcorder, and spent tens of millions of
dollars on thrillingly choreographed scenes of incredibly beautiful people
pleasuring each other.
You'd even have the fringe benefit that it would make for a more
difficult segue into the argument that it's okay to raze a few
countries in the service of building an empire.
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