At the end of China's Warring States, the Kingdom of Qin is the most ruthless and ambitious of the seven states. Its King is the target of assassin from all over China. Of all the would be assassins, Broken Sword, Flying Snow and Sky are the most dangerous. When Nameless kills all three, he is offered a chance to meet the King. Nameless explains to the King how he used their personal relationships to expose and attack their weaknesses, but the King tells a different version of the same story...
I'm not going to do a complete film review here as I've reviewed the film with the other release that is featured on this site. What I will comment on is any difference the additional 10 minutes or so makes to the film. Unfortunately it is only 11 minutes of additional footage in this Director's Cut. Reading over the review for the film on the theatrical version, I stated that there was something like 20 minutes missing from the film. Well this was the case based on the running time quoted by people working on the film when they were complaining about Miramax's handling of distribution affairs.
These 10 minutes don't offer a great deal of change in the film, just some subtle differences in places and other changes in perspective. Unfortunately commenting on them will probably contain spoilers, so you've been warned.
The biggest change for me is the lake fight between Nameless and Broken Sword. In the theatrical cut it was implied that this was fight fought in the minds of the two warriors - a fight out of respect for Flying Snow. However, this is not the case in this release. The fight that takes place is most definitely real and not in their minds. This is one change that I haven't taken to too well. The reason for this is that Broken Sword knew that Flying Snow had to do what she did in order for Nameless to have a chance of succeeding in his plan. There was no other way for it, but he still had to fight for vengeance. Placing this fight in their minds still had the fight take place, but with the honour, respect and acknowledgement of what has happened was necessary. Bringing it out of their minds and into reality changes this to Broken Sword actually seeking revenge regardless of the cost to Nameless' mission. Personally I preferred the symbolism of the theatrical cut's version to the director's.
That fight is the biggest change/addition to this version of Hero. The golden forest fight between Moon and Flying Snow has been altered slightly and now plays longer and slower, perhaps now being more fitting and complimentary to the music score. While it is a more fitting change, it doesn't add much to the story or film.
A lot of the other changes in this version are alternative angles or shots compared to the theatrical cut. One notable shot is during a flashback of Broken Sword and Flying Snow's past, where we see them having a fight in front of a waterfall. The shot here is now at a different angle and simply is more aesthetically beautiful than before. I think there are a few other similar instances throughout the film, but again nothing major. The only other major change is the inclusion of a few more dialogue scenes between Moon and Nameless. When Moon is delivering her master's weapon to Nameless as per her master's instructions, we now witness a brief conversation between them that has Moon attempt to demonstrate an extreme show of faith and devotion. This scene does add to Moon's character development, something that I thought was lacking a little in the theatrical cut, but such a short scene can only add a limited amount. However, it is certainly a beneficial scene to have in the film.
I can't think of any other differences in this version of Hero that really stood out. I think any other change/addition that I have not mentioned will simply be a slightly extended shot or additional angle or something to that extent. If I am wrong here please email me to let me know and I will update.
Audio & Subtitles
Well much like the theatrical cut release that I've reviewed, the sound here is brilliant. I only have a 5.1 system, but I still chose to listen to the DTS 6.1 soundtrack. All the surrounds are given a good workout throughout the film, with raindrops splashing all around and the wind in the forest swirling seemingly through your head! Absolutely no complaints here, as I was well impressed.
The subtitles in the Guang Dong Face release reviewed were good save for the opening and closing text. Thankfully for people who require English subtitles the opening and closing text is actually written in English. Personally I found this quite surprising as this is a Hong Kong release, so I thought the text would have been in Chinese. I would have had no complaints if it was and was subtitled in English. So all is good so far. The rest of the subs all the way through the film are of a high standard. I don't recall much in the way of errors, so you can rest easy in knowing that you won't have to spend time away from enjoying the beauty of this film while trying to decipher spelling errors and grammatically bad subtitles.
A film like Hero needs - and I mean that in the strongest sense - a good quality film transfer, as with the beauty shown on screen and the vivid and bright colours used, nothing less be worthy of this film. Thumbs up to Edko who have delivered a greatly detailed print showcasing the colours brilliantly.
DVD & Extras
Despite a very fitting animated menu screen introducing each of the main characters in the film, there is nothing else on this DVD. No extras whatsoever, just a barebones release. This is rather disappointing as I would have thought releasing the Director's Cut could have gone with something to make it more special. Oh well...
While I would definitely recommend the Director's Cut of Hero over the theatrical cut mainly due to this being the way the director wanted the film to be seen, I'd still say each is as good a film as the other. The DC has some better aspects, but the change in the lake fight is not one of them, which is why I cannot bring myself to give this 5 out of 5. If I had a rating between 4.5 and 5, I'd give this it. Regardless of the petty difference in rating, this is still a fantastic film and one of the most beautiful you are likely to see.