I just saw Hero in the big screen yesterday, and I had a question for all of you. I've grown up watching wuxia films and studying Eastern philosophy, so many of the themes presented in Hero moved me profoundly. However, after speaking with friends who've grown up differently, I found them to be totally unmoved, maybe even disturbed by what Hero presents.
Watching Hero, Iím acutely aware that this is neither my world or my worldview, and the film is not moving to me in the way that The Passion is. Crouching Tiger, too, was emotionally far more resonant than Hero. Yet my admiration for its cinematic achievement is as great, and I am profoundly grateful for this breathtakingly beautiful glimpse into another world.
Do you ever find that some film genres and themes are just culturally too foreign for you to fully grasp or understand, even though you respect them? Perhaps this is due to my ecletic tastes, but so far I've not found themes or genres that turned me off completely (their execution in a particular film is a different story altogether, of course).
Frankly, I was surprised to find so many people turned off by Hero, and I'm wondering if any of you have similar experiences.
Well, here's an article from the NY Times... not a review, but collected pieces of interviews and a bit of background on the flick "Hero". (Original article here)
I just found it interesting that even the film's maker decided that some of the ideas presented in "Hero" would be too tough for Western audiences to tackle, and they were adjusted accordingly.
Not really going to comment on what I think of that... but here's the reprint, in all its glory.
September 2, 2004
'Hero' Soars, and Its Director Thanks 'Crouching Tiger'
By CRAIG S. SMITH
The Hong Kong filmmaker Zhang Yimou, in Europe to promote his next martial-arts movie, is bemused by the surprise response from American moviegoers to his first one, the epic "Hero," which broke box-office records last weekend for an Asian film released in the United States.
"I never thought it would be so popular," Mr. Zhang said by telephone from London.
He gives the credit to another movie that almost stopped his from being made, and then contributed to a long delay in its release in the United States - the director Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - and to savvy marketing by the distributor of "Hero," Miramax.
" 'Crouching Tiger' created an audience for this kind of film," Mr. Zhang, speaking Mandarin, said in his signature mumble.
Known as a maker of intimate, intense dramas like "Raise the Red Lantern," Mr. Zhang began writing the script for "Hero" in the late 1990's, when attitudes in the mainstream film world softened toward one of his lifelong loves, martial-arts tales.
He said he nearly abandoned the script when "Crouching Tiger" was released in 2000, fearing people would accuse him of riding on Ang Lee's coattails. But he discovered when he persevered that the success of "Crouching Tiger" - the film, made for an estimated $15 million, sold $128 million in tickets in the United States alone, according to imdb.com - made it easier for him to raise money for his own film's production.
The "Hero" story - of a third century B.C. assassin who comes within reach of China's legendary King of Qin but fails to kill him - is well known to the Chinese. In Mr. Zhang's telling, the assassin gives up the opportunity to kill the king for the good of the empire emerging under the king's rule. The king orders the would-be assassin killed instead.
"The hero sacrifices himself for peace," Mr. Zhang said, a concept that he said resonated with Chinese audiences, who also saw contemporary parallels in the self-sacrifice for a brutal ruler. When the film was released in China in late 2002, "Hero" beat even "Titanic" to become the country's highest-grossing film.
Still, Mr. Zhang said he kept Western audiences in mind while making the film because he knew he would not be able to recoup the production costs through Chinese ticket sales alone.
"I tried to get across themes that would be understood by a Western audience," he said. "There are elements that are purely Chinese, but I made an effort to keep a balance between the two."
Miramax was one of his biggest backers, covering nearly two-thirds of the film's $30 million cost. On Miramax's advice, he cut 20 minutes to speed the pace and make it more palatable for American audiences.
"America is a big market, and I wanted it to succeed, so I agreed," Mr. Zhang said. The uncut version was released in China on DVD.
Talk of the cuts and the delay in bringing the film to American theaters fed rumors that Miramax wasn't happy with the film. But both Miramax and Mr. Zhang say that was never true and that technical factors alone were responsible for the delay. (In Variety today, Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of Miramax, wrote a guest column recounting his firm's differences with the Chinese distributors of "Hero" and other obstacles to the "full Oscar push" he says he had planned for it.)
Miramax originally wanted to release the film in 2003 but held back when another martial-arts film, Jackie Chan's "Medallion," appeared on the market. It then planned the release to follow Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" series, running trailers for "Hero" on the DVD of "Kill Bill Vol. 1" and in theaters with "Kill Bill Vol. 2." It also put a "Quentin Tarantino Presents" label on the film, hoping to draw interest from the director's followers.
The strategy apparently worked. "Making that association was very useful for getting the film out to an American audience," Mr. Zhang said.
He expects the success of "Hero" to help his next picture, "House of Flying Daggers," another martial-arts saga that is scheduled to open in American theaters in December - distributed, like "Crouching Tiger," by Sony Pictures Classics. He is in Europe promoting the film, which is set in the waning days of the Tang Dynasty and follows the story of two star-crossed lovers fighting a shadowy revolutionary alliance.
"It should be at least as well received, and maybe will exceed 'Hero,' because it is a film about love, and American audiences may find it easier to understand," Mr. Zhang said.
Totally unrelated to "Hero" (but still related to how the people at "the top" look at their audience...
``What this summer on balance taught us, I think, is people were reasonably satisfied,'' said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman at Universal Pictures, which had hits with ``The Bourne Supremacy'' and ``Van Helsing'' and a flop with ``Thunderbirds.'' ``I don't think they were extraordinarily satisfied, but you know what? At the end of the day, reasonably satisfied's not a terrible report card.''
and this beauty from Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations....
"This is what audiences want. They're looking for a choice. If you couldn't find a movie you wanted to see this summer, then you should stop going to see movies.''
When i was in the theater people kept saying, COUNTLESS TIMES, "Tch yea...Yea right...could never happen, HHA YEA RIGHT" And it pissed me off so bad. I know they dont understand the whole eastern Kung Fu Movies, because that generation is gone, and you have to want it to see it.
I even heard a kid go "WHAT THE FUCK DUDE, it said QUENTIN TARANTINO!" Which i laughed at, and explained to him that the film was already made and ready to go, and Quentin Talked miramax into releasing it here, and they attached his name to it so that people would see it, or so that if it failed it was all on him.(which is what i read from a movie site prior to the release)
There is some linguistic thought that language shapes our perceptions of the world. Basically, people who speak "other" languages see the world differently. In cultural anthropology, scientists talk about "cultural" or "moral" relativism across human civilization. People of "western" philosophical thought think somewhat differently than people of "eastern" philosophical thought.
I think it's interesting that you were moved by Hero. I haven't seen it yet, but now I'm going to make a point to see it.
Ugh, sorry for getting back to my own thread so late. I've been having a hectic week.
Zen: I find it interesting that a film as complex as Hero could be intensely popular in China and Asia, where the percentage of people with quality educations is probably much lower than America's. I honestly believe that American audiences aren't naturally dumb when it comes to films--it's just that they're led to treat films as *only* entertainment. Entertaining films have their roles, but there's so much more to the art, as we all know.
rizien: I got really bugged when people laughed at the one scene where Jet Li asks the old man to play music for the fight. When I first watched the scene, I found it quite beautiful and philosophically true. It reminds me of the time when audiences laughed at the scene in The Last Samurai when Watanabe's character tells Cruise's character that he's been working on a poem. I guess things like that are cultural--Americans don't expect their fighters to be "soft."
sourmonkey: The research on language and perception is quite interesting and rich. However, English-speaking people understand and enjoy Eastern philosophy just as well as Chinese speakers. I'm hesitant to say that, in this particular instance, language plays a major role in the differences of reception in the East and West.
Christopher: You *have* to see it on the big screen, if only once. I hate the new translation, but wow is it worth watching in the theater.
Xuetang, i agree completely. Its situations like that that make me hate maintstream movies/movie goers. People like that are why most of what comes out of Hollywood is pure shit . Most, not all. Oh well, I'm sure they knew that only people who understand and appreciate films with stories and philosophy and whatnot would enjoy this film. But either way they still got the money from regular people with QT's name...
It's an interesting phenomenon really. I think mainstream American audiences are dumb not because they're inherently so, but because big studios assume they are. Thus, most Americans *only* know film as pure entertainment, and not as an actual art. By contrast, it could be argued that Chinese audiences aren't as educated as Americans, and yet they loved Hero. How could that be?
I have a feeling that if big studios allowed more challenging movies to come to the fore, people would slowly start to see film as art. I mean, the French New Wave filmmakers were quite popular in their time, as was Kubrick. It's just that America's seen a gradual decline in the quality of mainstream film, and so people are slowly growing up knowing nothing but the entertaining stuff.
And yeah, I want to hate QT but I can't. He helped bring Hero here, he's a talented filmmaker, and he's basically helped bring non-mainstream films to America. It's just unfortunate that almost every American assumes he directed Hero and therefore expects a blood-fest.