Improves on a rewatch: plot not so WTF-y, grinding colour schematics less Vogue shoot and more 'Oh yes Zhang does that' (and has since Red Sorghum), and I've learned to listen to the actors speaking Chinese, rather than just read subtitles. 'Oh hey the Emperor uses the informal I here and then goes back to gua ren!' Step by step and row by row...
(So that in the extras afterwards, I'm wondering about Zhang's accent/ dialect? because his mandarin sounds quite different from the action director's- and I hope it's not just because the action director, who I thought was from HK, was really speaking Cantonese and I've become unable to hear the difference. But it's also different from Uncle Ming's mandarin, not that Uncle Ming got more than a sentence or two in the Making Of... sections; and Uncle Ming's daily mandarin sounds subtly different from the Emperor's mandarin which sounds subtly different from Gou Jian's mandarin, and is that the theatrical diction you guys were talking about, nado nado)
Have also learned to watch these things as a combination of opera and ballet and Cirque du Soleil, with a huge dash of manga, which puts paid to my atavistic bourgeois-French knee-jerk reaction of But this is imbecilic. Unlike the HK versions of same, high budgets and Zhang's eye let me make out what people are actually doing as they swoop and glide. My TV set isn't tiny: it's what a nonwatcher considers as reasonable a size as one can get before becoming ridiculous ('what's that picture window sitting in your living room?') But it's not big enough to handle epic fantasy-size films, let alone badly lit night scenes in Cantonese movies.
The Emperor, yeah, is still not!Chen Daoming, but might serve as Notes Towards that A/U Fu Chai I constantly play with. The Emperor is much more yin than Hu Jun is, or possibly could be, and not enough yin to be really Uncle Ming. The voice is there, the... je ne sais quoi, the ambience, the sexual fascination, is missing. 'Oh,' she says, disappointed, 'he plays a man.'
I can't remember what the mainland grousing about Hero was all about- selling out to the West, was it?- or was it Chinese NAmericans grousing about Zhang selling out to the CCP? Some people love to grouse. I agree that Hero breaks what seems to be the cardinal rule of mainland historical dramas: it doesn't do Sucks To Be Us. (Oh look how we suffered under the unenlightened rule of anyone but Mao, oh what benighted times these were, oh life by its nature is a howling wilderness where the bad end unhappily and the good unluckily and lovers kill each other in spite of themselves oh no wait he *did* do that one.) But yanno, it's *not* an historical drama. It's intended to be a martial arts film, and is in fact a martial arts art film, ie not a low-budget HK churn-out. If the HK directors can have fun with, and make fun of, Chinese history, shouldn't Zhang Yimou be entitled to do the same?
At this rate I might even find myself watching Curse of the Golden Boobies. Except that the boobies in question bug me, for reasons I can't define. But they bug me the same way as Qing male hairstyles: ugly and distracting.