The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Stylish violence can be an amazing thing to watch in a movie when handled right.  There can be almost a sense of beauty in violence, or what some reviewers have called 'the ballet of death.' Just look to Bonnie and Clyde or The Wild Bunch or more recently The Matrix for what can be achieved when violence is elevated to something more than just brute strength.  Of course, with any good thing comes the bad.

That's where I'll start with 2002's Hero, a Chinese film set in ancient China before the first emperor took power.  The reviews painted this as one of the most beautifully filmed, stylish movies to hit theaters in years.  I'm a sucker for a good-looking movie so I gave it a shot.  Well, the reviews were dead on because it is breathtaking at times with its use of color.  But that's about all I liked because the stylish violence is set to overkill and ends up turning a 98-minute movie into one that seemed much, much longer thanks to some annoying storytelling techniques and an over reliance on slow-mo action.

For years, the king of the Qin province (Daoming Chen) has lived in fear under the constant threat of assassination.  Years before, three assassins vowed to kill him in hopes of preventing his power growing, and ever since he has been unable to lead a regular life.  But a prefect from a small province and a master swordsman known only as Nameless (Jet Li) has claimed that he killed all three assassins and is seeking an audience with the king to tell him the stories of his battles.  The king agrees, wanting to meet the man who has given him his life back.  Nameless sits down and tells his story but something doesn't quite add up as his retellings unfold.

SPOILER ALERT Stop reading now for a paragraph or so SPOILER ALERT This isn't actually a huge spoiler because it's revealed about halfway through the movie, but Nameless did not in fact kill the three assassins.  Their deaths were faked in order to get Nameless an audience with the king so that he can get close enough to do what they've all sought to do for so many years.  The king figures this out rather quickly but his curiosity gets the best of him so he must know what has actually happened and what their plan actually was.  END OF SPOILERS

Some reviews compared Hero's storytelling technique to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon where different characters tell their perspective of a story and the viewer is left to decide for themselves what really happened.  Rashomon is held in high regard, and I hated it so take that for what it's worth in the rest of this review.  Hero amps it up even more with Nameless regaling the king with his brave stories of how he took out the three assassins.  Then the king figures it out, and basically wipes away the first 45 minutes of the movie.  Everything we just watched never happened.  It sounds like an attempt to be unique and bring something new to the story, but for me it comes across as lazy.  Tell the story you want to tell and be done with it.

Besides the fact that half of the movie never happened, I was pissed off even more at the never-ending action sequences.  Watch the first showdown HERE for an example of what the whole movie is like.  In small doses, this action could be and should be great once you get past the ridiculous flying, slow-motion fighting.  Nameless fights three master assassins, Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, a real bright spot and my favorite character) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), over and over again and then the assassins fight and bicker among themselves, argue over what to do, and then do what they'd planned to do in the first place.  Big old 360 here.  The ending is a cop-out and should have been much better.

This highly stylized action would have been much better in smaller doses because at the most basic levels these scenes are something to behold with great camera work and some impressive stunts.  But piled on top of each other one after another, it gets incredibly repetitive.  I realize with a martial arts movie you should expect lots of action scenes, but there's got to be a limit somewhere.  A gorgeous filmmaking style and visual eye alone does not make this movie worthwhile.    

Hero <----trailer (2002): */****

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