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284 of 307 people found the following review helpful
I feel like I have been waiting a long time to see this movie and that the trailer for "Hero" ("Ying xiong") has been teasing us for at least a year. I have to admit that I fully expected to see an epic full of battle scenes and massed armies of men. My mistake. This film from China is a pointed fable, distilled from legend that may well be myth, and with a point that may well be lost on Western audiences. This is clear from those viewers who are unwilling to accept the conventions of wire work in Chinese martial art pictures and whose standard of realism refuses to allow for the poetic ballet of combat.

The prologue makes it clear that this story takes place in China before it was China, when the land was made up of seven warring provinces and the King of Qin (Chen Dao Ming) dreamt of conquering the other six provinces and uniting the land. For years the king has been unable to have a peaceful night of sleep because there are three assassins who are out to kill him. Now comes a nameless warrior (Jet Li), who has come to the imperial court to be rewarded for killing the three unbeatable assassins. He is warned that he may not approach within 100 paces of the king or he will be killed. But because he has bested the assassin Sky (Donnie Yen) in combat, he is allowed with 20 paces to tell his story.

Most of the story of "Hero" is told in flashback as Nameless tells his stories and the king questions him. We also learn of the fates of Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), two assassins who were also a pair of lovers. But there is more than one truth and more than one tale to be told in this film. Director Zhang Yimou, improving on the artistry we first enjoyed in "Raise the Red Lantern," color codes the stories that we see. First the story is told in lush shades of red, then in cool blue, again in white, and finally in green. Drops of water and swirling yellow leaves all become parts of the dances of death during the fight sequences, captured by cinematographer Christopher Doyle. "Hero" is a gorgeous film that uses its saturated colors better than any film of recent memory. There is a code to the colors, but that is something you need to come to terms with on your own.

Another strength of this film is that the fighting (choreographed by Wei Tung) and special effects do not overwhelm the actors who are required to play what is on some level the same scene as slightly different characters. I know there are computer generated effects in this film, especially since there are more arrows shot in "Hero" than any film in history, but for once I did not get the feel that what I was seeing was not real. That is become this film keeps coming back to questions of aesthetics, from the breathtaking use of color to the eloquent idea that swordsmanship and calligraphy are intrinsically awaited.

Special mention has to be made of the music, composed by Dun Tan and featuring violin solos and fiddling by Itzhak Perlman along with drumming by the Japanese group Kodo. I have never really seen one of those Hong Kong kung fu movies where everyone screams while they fight and I might never get around to it given the silent eloquence of the fights in movies like "Hero" (not to mention "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), where the moments are underscored by the sound of clashing swords, pounding drums, and a violin. "Hero" is an art film, albeit one made on a larger and more colorful canvas.

"Hero" may be sold as being a big film but it is really about something relatively plain and simple. I disagree with the idea that either the style or substance of the film is beyond our Western sensibilities. Apparently the reason the film has the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" tag at the start was so that Miramax would not cut 20 minutes of the film out on the pretext that it too Asian/confusing for Western audiences. Indeed, I have seen some critics who professes to be confused about the complex plot and I can only wonder if they were equally confused by "Rashomon," an obvious reference point to this one (in many ways Yimou owes more to Akira Kurosawa's classic film than to Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Certainly after a century of cinema we are capable to looking at the same thing from multiple perspectives and enjoying this gem of a film that has finally made its way to our shores.
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217 of 248 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 22, 2004
Format: DVD
Much as Ang Lee demonstrated his directorial virtuosity in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, Zhang Yimou has applied his magnificent talents to the martial arts genre with HERO. This is movie not only worth seeing, but worth watching two or three times, or more. Each viewing unveils new appreciation for Zhang's artistic direction, Chris Doyle's cinematography, Tan Dun's musical score, and Itzhak Perlman's violin performance, not to mention fresh insights into the story line and character interrelationships.

The story line is simple enough on its surface, based loosely on Chinese historical fact. The king of the Qin state seeks to unify the Seven Kingdoms some 2,000 years ago, and three assassins from the defeated Zhao state wish to kill him. An unknown warrior named Nameless, from the Qin state, succeeds in killing the three assassins and returns to collect his reward in an audience with the King. As we view segments of Nameless's explanation of how he defeated three such fearsome opponents, a battle of wits ensues with the skeptical King until the truth emerges. Their verbal sparring beautifully parallels the feints, thrusts, and parries of the martial arts scenes.

Within this story line, we are treated to extraordinary, ballet-like martial arts contests between Nameless and the three assassins. Each scene is dominated by one primary color, from the opening desert white to the reds of the calligraphy school to the yellows of autumn leaves whose wind-swept swirls become weapons in themselves. A sword fight between Broken Sword and the King of Qin is cloaked in flowing green cloth, reminiscent of Zhang's use of colored cloth in JU DOU.

While HERO evokes memories of RASHOMON, this is not the same motif. The three "versions" of the assassins' reported deaths are rather more like the gradual unfolding of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. As the tale reveals itself, the relationship of the four assassins (including Nameless)moves from enemies to spurned lovers to companions working together and finally to a genuinely tragic (if seemingly platonic) love between two of them.

Several less recognized aspects of HERO are particularly worthy of note. First, anyone who saw Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE will find it remarkable that the same two actors could pull off the characters of Broken Sword and Flying Snow so successfully. Second, the game of Go played by the assassin Sky at the beginning of the movie magnificently foreshadows Nameless's successive movements in the King's presence from 100 to 20 to 10 paces. Third, the ballet movements in unison of the candle flames burning before the King are not only brilliant in conception, they mirror the closing scene's behavior of the King's faceless advisors calling for Nameless's execution. Finally, the juxtaposition of calligraphy brushes with swords and flying arrows is a dramatic visual rendition of the pen and sword adage.

A last comment. Criticism of HERO as Communist Party propaganda is laughably absurd and demonstrates a severe lack of understanding of Chinese history. Qin Shihuang was a product of his times, no more or less tyrannical than the Egyptian pharaohs, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror, Suleiman, or the American generals who "cleared" the Wild West of Indians. Regardless of his methods, Qin Shihuang accomplished a grand unification (All under heaven) that continues two millennia after his death. HERO evokes the founding of a nation and one unknown man's ultimate decision to sublimate his desire for revenge to the greater good of his country. That makes it no more propagandist than stories of Abraham Lincoln's struggle to re-unify the North and the South at the cost of countless thousands of lives, and far less pathetically propagandist than the recent "American hero" movies celebrating Jessica Lynch or Ronald Reagan. Americans need to take a long, hard look in the mirror more often before screaming propaganda about the cultural work of other countries.

HERO is not a perfect movie. The sword fight over the lake goes a bit over the top, the calligraphy/sword connection is overplayed, and Zhang Ziyi's character Moon too often feels extraneous. Nevertheless, HERO is a Must See for anyone who loves great story-telling and great movie-making.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
Beautiful, artistic, poetic...an enchanting martial arts film that will captivate you with every scene!

These are the words I feel about "HERO", the 2002 film directed by Zhang Yimou ("Curse of the Golden Flower", "The House of Flying Daggers" and "Happy Times") and a film that would feature cinematography by Christopher Doyle ("Chungking Express", "In the Mood For Love", "Fallen Angels", "Happy Together") and music by composer Tan Dan ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "The Legend of the Black Scorpion").

The film would also star Asia's top talents which include Jet Li ("The Warlords", "Fearless", "Once Upon a Time in China", "Fist of Legend"), Tony Leung Chiu Wai ("Lust, Caution", "Red Cliff", "Tokyo Raiders", "Infernal Affairs"), Maggie Cheung ("Ashes of Time", "Sausalito", "In the Mood for Love", "Comrades: Almost a Love Story"), Daoming Chen ("Peace Blossom", "My 1919', "Infernal Affairs III"), Zhang Ziyi ("House of Flying Dagger", "My Wife is a Gangster", "Musa the Warrior", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") and Donnie Yen ("All's Well, End's Well", "Iron Monkey", "Flash Point" and "Bodyguards and Assassins").

The film which was Hong Kong's most expensive film at the time, was critically acclaimed, won several awards and eventually would make over $178 million worldwide in the box office.

"HERO" is presented on a two-ray Blu-ray disc with one being the primary Blu-ray and the other being a digital copy version of the film. Also, the Blu-ray also comes in a slipcase.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

"HERO" is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1) and suffice to say, this film just looks incredible. It's one of the most significant qualities of this film is its artistic direction, costume design, set design, location and most of all, the cinematography of Christopher Doyle.

Personally, I have always have seen Christopher Doyle as an avant-garde cinematographer since he worked on Wong Kar Wai's "Chungking Express" and suffice to say, his amazing cinematography and the tight editing really pulled the artistic vision of director Zhang Yimou to new heights.

Picture quality is vibrant. Very vibrant and color plays a big part in this film. Grain is seen on the film and I'm glad to see that Walt Disney has again kept with that and not gone the excessive DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) route. But for a film that came out back in 2002, is it a reference film on Blu-ray? Not really. But it does look very good. Part of the main reason is that despite the film being shot in beautiful locations and costume design and the colors really enhance the look of the film, it's no super clear, nor is it reference quality compared to recently released films on Blu-ray but still, "HERO" is just absolutely magnificent to watch.

As for audio quality, this is where it pains me to give it slightly less than perfect score. The film is presented with an English 5.1 DTS-HD losless audio track but the original Chinese language is only in Dolby Digital 5.1 (along with the Spanish and French). For a film of this caliber, I was hoping there would be a lossless audio track for the Chinese language but unfortunately, it's not.

But for some, I know it's a dealbreaker for some that the original language is not in lossless audio but the English version is and to be fair, I will say that the English dubwork is very good for this film. For earlier DVD releases, Asian films released in the US had terrible English dubbing but I will say that "HERO" turned out very well.

For audio, sounds such as the rains, swords clanging, arrows zipping through air... this is all captured quite well on the DTS-HD lossless audio track and sounds great. For the most part, audio is front and central channel driven with dialogue, music and sound effects but many of the soundtracks do utilize the surround channels. Again, I wish the original language was in lossless but for those who enjoyed the dubwork, you will be pleased by the DTS-HD audio.

As for subtitles, subtitles are presented in English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"HERO" comes with the following special features (in 480i, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles):

* Close-Up of a Fight Scene - (9:18) The secrets of the fighting choreography of "HERO". Quentin Tarentino, Jet Li and Donni Yuen discuss the fighting choreography. Also, storyboard and fighting scene comparisons. (Note: Some of the footage is the same as the one used on the main featurette).
* Hero Defined - (24:01) The Director and talent on their experiences of working on the film and the challenges they faced. Also, how locations were selected and what took place before the shooting of the film, during and after.
* Storyboards - (5:19) A side-by-side (or more like top-and-bottom) comparison of the storyboards and final feature.
* Inside the Action. A Conversation with Quentin Tarentino and Jet Li - (13:55) Jet Li is interviewed by Quentin Tarentino about his past films and working on "Hero".
* Soundtrack Spot - (:39) commercial spot for the "Hero" soundtrack.

JUDGMENT CALL:

"HERO" is a film that really distinguishes itself from other martial arts film due to its artistic style, wonderful cinematography, well-chosen locations and of course, having a talented director and top talents of HK cinema definitely helps as well.

For the most part, "HERO" was definitely one of those films that you can remember for many years later for its scenes. From the vibrancy of the colors used, the battle scene on top of the lake (which Director Zhang Yimou wanted perfect still waters and didn't mind waiting to film when it happened), the thousands of arrowheads attacking the art school, there is simply many scenes that are just memorable.

Sure, "HERO" is a beautiful film known for its cinematography, its talent, its location but what about the storyline? The story of "HERO" is good but not great. Where a film like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is one of those films that captured beauty through its storyline, "HERO" definitely relies on the visuals to enhance the storyline. Because the film is split up into three arcs with three different stories of what took place, it's all about how the viewer interprets that storyline and how that storyline touches their soul.

Personally, I have found "HERO" almost like a piece of art. You embrace everything that went on to create that artistic piece. From its characters as Jet Li and Donnie Yen are just fantastic when they battle each other during their scene. You know that when these two are together onscreen, you're going to get a beautiful, captivating scene with the best fighting choreography. When you see Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Chung, you know that these two have awesome chemistry and that they can bring out the more dramatic scenes and even during their fighting scenes, everything seems believable and the two enforce the vibrancy and color of the film. The same goes with Zhang Ziyi who brings the more emotional scenes to the film.

But is the Blu-ray release perfect? Unfortunately, it misses the mark of perfection due to the Blu-ray not including a lossless audio track for the Chinese language. I was so excited about "HERO" on Blu-ray and it's a given, we are going to get awesome picture quality because it's a colorful and vibrant film. You know that the scene between Falling Snow vs. Moon with its rich red colors and yellow leaves is going to be absolutely brilliant on HD or the scene when Broken Sword and Falling Snow wear these blue outfits or their green outfits and you know that color is going to look great on Blu-ray. But along with that awesome picture quality, you want awesome audio.

The English dub is definitely one of the better English dubs for an Asian film and the lossless audio track was very good. But I was torn by wanting to watch the film in its original language but knowing that the audio quality of the Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 was nowhere near the 5.1 DTS-HD English track. For a fan of this film, for me...it was bittersweet.

So, overall "HERO" is definitely a wonderful film to catch on Blu-ray and it's great to see Disney give this release a digital copy as well. But for the most part, "HERO" could have been a great release but without the Chinese audio track in HD, it ends up being just an average release.
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89 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2004
Format: DVD
The one star is not for the movie itself, which is one of the best movies I've ever seen. But argh! I've got the Japanese DVD from Elite Group and it is so far superior to the North American release in all aspects (image quality, subtitles, disc pressing quality, and even the box!) that this version makes me want to cry.

Also, I'm getting tired of defending this movie to people who've only gotten the North American version of the subtitles. It's like we're not even talking about the same movie anymore.

What a thing to do to such a beautiful piece of art. How do these people sleep at night?

Looking through the other comments below, I followed Raul Saavedra's advice and checked out the difference between the image quality in the special features, and the movie itself. He has a very astute point. The main movie image quality just ends up looking that much worse in comparison. Why do the scenes look so awesome in the special features sections? My theory is that they tried to cram too much onto one disc (the Japanese release is 2 DVDs), and had to compress the video even more than the overseas releases to make up for it, so the image quality of the movie itself suffered.

PS. Go here for a detailed comparison review of the different versions:
[...]
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2004
Zhang Yimou's "Hero" is probably one of the most visually beautiful and exquisitely filmed movies I have seen in many a year. Set in the third century BC during the unification of the seven kingdoms under the first Chinese emperor, the film stars Jet Li as a literally Nameless warrior who has supposedly vanquished the emperor's most fearsome enemies: Sky, played by Donnie Yen, Snow (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk), and the previously undefeatable Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu-wai).

Nameless is escorted into the divine presence as a hero, but after hearing his account of how he defeated these three foes, the emperor isn't having any of it; he suspects Nameless fabricated the whole thing only to get within striking distance (ten paces) of the emperor himself in order to carry out an assassination plot. The story then divides itself into a Rashomon-like re-telling from various POVs, each one photographed with strikingly vivid color shifts -- a vibrant red, a pale blue, a pristine white, and a delicate, pale green. And then we see Reality, photographed against a background of lifeless desert mesas which seems to emphasize the futility of it all.

The most compelling characters in the film are Sky and Broken Sword -- she's a single-minded woman warrior with a take-no-prisoners mentality, and Broken Sword, her lover, is a warrior who has fought one fight too many and no longer believes that the sword is the only option to resolving conflicts. But Sky, like the true believer she is, loves her principles more than him, and the resulting confrontation between them is as inevitable as it is tragic. The acting is excellent all around. Jet Li is an appealing and likeable figure, and Tony Leung gives a totally convincing performance as Broken Sword. The cast is rounded out by the exquisitely beautiful Zhang Ziyi as Broken Sword's servant Moon, in love with her master and faithful to the end, and Chen Dao Ming as the emperor of Chin.

There are going to be endless comparisons between "Hero" and "Crouching Tiger", Ang Lee's masterpiece. Visually, "Hero" can hold its own against "Crouching Tiger" any day in the week. And yet, somehow, it doesn't grab you emotionally in the way "Crouching Tiger" does. "Hero" is gorgeous to look at and maybe that's its problem, it's so eye-popping to watch that the story doesn't measure up to its pure visual impact. Zhang doesn't do a "Rashomon" tale as brilliantly as the late, great Akira Kurosawa, and in this film he doesn't grip us as totally as Ang Lee, but he's delivered a movie that, at least to watch, is eminently satisfying.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This film far exceeded my expectations. It is very deep on many levels. The astounding cinematography which uses beautiful displayes of colors for emotional content, hevenly scenery, and exquisite choreographed fighting. The fable like story telling which Poetically layers truth and reality, questions friendship, duty, and honor, and provides a glimps into chinese history. The blend of all of these elements makes the flim enjoyable on many levels.

Beware spoilers in this paragraph. Some scenes I particularly enjoied where the battle with Sky in the "chess house" where they were playing "Go" which is a poetic foreshadowing of the battle that takes place in Nameless and Sky's mind. The fight in the leaves where the opponents rarely touch they just use there energy to force the leaves at each other. And the water confrontation.

Now I just want to get something off my chest. I feel that the inclusion of Quentin Tarantino Presents tacked on to this film, and broadcast in all of the promotion is just blatant shameless advertising. I don't think it gives the creators there due respect by having Tarantino's name thrown out there like he had anything to do with the film being made. I love his films, but this is absurd. I've had several people come up and say "Hey have you seen the new Tarantino movie?" The same thing happended with The Iron Monkey. I think it is disrespecful to the creators.

This is a classic epic film that I will soon add to my collection, and treasure for may reasons. I can't recomend it enough for those who are seeking a film experience which offers significant beauty and depth.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2003
It's not fair to compare this movie to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" directed by Ang Lee. These two movies are so far apart from one another, akin to chalk and cheese. Where "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a no-nonsense straight-up story telling, "Hero" is more like a "Pulp Fiction" type of story telling. The same story is told from different perspectives and then, we shall decide for ourselves what actually happened and what outcome would we expect from those happenings. Many of my Chinese peers were utterly disappointed with "Hero" because it's arguably one of the most expensive Chinese movie ever made & yet, the final touch didn't quite live up to their expectation. Naturally, it's a star-studded movie with appearances by Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Zhang Jiyi. Due to Director's involvement in theatre productions in China, I would like to believe that he applied the visual touches of theatres into this cinema spectacle that I could only describe as spectacular. This time around, the martial arts is emphasised with special effects, & in order to prevent viewers from been confused with narrations by Jet Li, the cast were given the blue, red, & white treatments. For example, from one person's point of view, it's rendered the "blue", but from another person's, it's actually "red", & the truth is to be revealed in "white". It's quite imaginative to concoct a story about these few assasins who had attempted various times to rid of Emperor Chin, the Emperor who united China from various Kingdoms, the Emperor who gave us the Great Wall of China, & also the Emperor who in his later years would sent his followers around the world looking for elixir of life to give him the gift of immortality, and as the legend goes, those followers of his ended up settling in Japan & thus, the Japanese today. In the end, the assassins were the ones who convinced him that he's on the right path and thus, the formation of modern China. Talking about mixing fact with fiction. Overall, this is definitely a beautiful movie, a movie that deserves to be enjoyed but one also has to accept that it's an ambitious movie that didn't quite pick up an Oscar this year. Still, it's still a good movie to be had. Well done.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 14, 2004
"Hero" is the apocryphal story of the uniting of warring kingdoms in Asia into the country of China. Three assassins who have sought to murder the king have themselves been murdered by the Nameless warrior (Li). Now, Nameless is brought before that king (Daoming) to be rewarded for his heroic deeds. While there, he recounts the tales of his battles with these assassins, and then the king offers another perspective on things that turns everything that has gone before on its head.

"Hero" is an interesting movie that will not appeal to everyone. It is in many ways reminicent of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", but also very different. Filled with vibrancy and color, every frame of this movie is amazing to look at. It is very easy to get lost in the images presented by director Zhang Yimou. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and surreal. Utilizing the "Wire-fu" first seen be American audiences in "Crouching Tiger", the characters leap and spin with no regard for gravity or any laws of physics. The story itself seems straightforward, until the king offers a possible alternative for the way things actually happened. Then, the movie takes a number of twists and turns that are mostly satisfying.

"Hero" is not your typical action movie, and I cannot recommend this movie for everyone. That being said, I think that this movie could be a pleasant surprise for some people looking for something a little different.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
HERO is Yimou Zhang's first attempt at a martial arts film - and the novelty shows. As the featurettes explain, he dreamed of making a sword film, searched for a story, and finally wrote his own story that would allow him to express his excitement about the genre.

So, the story is minimal - Nameless Hero (Jet Li) gradually approaches the King of the province Qin as he relates how he protected the King from potential assassins. The film is done in flashbacks to show how Nameless Hero accomplished his feats. In the end a plot is revealed that brings the movie to an odd resolution. And that is really all the story is about.

The beauty here is in the choices of various colors to depict the various stages of Nameless Hero's quest: oranges become yellows become reds become greens become whites, etc. The settings are placed within the vast deserts of China and in palace courtyards. The costumes and settings are magically lush and stunningly beautiful. The action is the expected highly choreographed martial arts sequences that appear more like ballet than fighting. The huge supporting casts of armies are amazingly well staged with epic action and surreal results.

The overall message is about the way the once divided China of 2000 years ago became united into what is called 'the Land'. That is really all we have as far as directorial message mission. It matters little that the acting is minimal and wooden, that the use of flashbacks and revised flashforwards leaves some mystery as to which of the characters have been killed on several occasions (!). The pleasure is in the looking - and this is a beautiful, active piece of art to watch.

Grady Harp
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2004
Although interest in "Hero" may have been created by "Crouching Tiger" of a couple of years ago, this movie is very different. There is action: sword fights, attack by armies, thousands of arrows flying through the air. In a slight way, it can be called a "kung fu" movie. Yet, there is more here.

Like "Crouching Tiger," the photography, scenery, and action are breathtakingly beautiful. Here, the filmmakers use color almost as separate characters. Martial arts are depicted as philosophy rather than just sword styles. Based on an actual historical period, the characters have depth. Perhaps those unfamiliar with Chinese history will have reason to read up on it.

"Crouching Tiger" is a movie that can be viewed many times without growing tired of it. "Hero" is a movie that should be viewed many times in order to peal back the layers and find the depths of the story. The old kung fu movies have been built on and the results are fascinating and beautiful movies with depth and charm. Both of these newer films are so much more than martial arts fantasies.
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