Hollywood's forgotten how to do epics properly. Exhibits A and B for the prosecution? Troy and Alexander. All buff, bluff and bluster, they sag their way along predictable story paths signposted with shouty faux-Shakespearean dialogue. Where's the subtlety? Where's the wit? Where's the goddamn scope and excitement?

Looking for all of the above? Then try Hero. Zhang Yimou's colour-coded, kung-fu, medieval Chinese sprawler kicks off when a swordsman named, um, Nameless (Jet li) turns up at a paranoid king's audience chamber claiming to have killed off the three assassins - - Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (the superb Tony Leung) - - who've threatened the ruler's life for years.

Moving gradually closer and closer to the sovereign, he offers his version of the scraps that saw him slice and dice the enemies of the state. Yet the King doubts just how true the stories are and begins offering his own interpretation of events - all the while wondering just what his visitor's true agenda is.

Opening up like a puzzle box, with each variation of a tale clad in a different shade (from leaf green to blood red), Hero tackles issues of love, loyalty and - no, really - geopolitical destiny. It'd be involving as a stripped-down parable, even without the blistering, beautiful action, superb acting and cast of thousands. With them, it touches awesome.

You might argue that it lacks the overall emotional heights of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - feelings are often underplayed beyond subtlety onto the edge of confusion - or that the excessive wirework sometimes detracts from the excitement, but these are minor quibbles. When the only epic of the last 12 months that can even compete with Hero is Zhang Yimou's own follow-up House Of Flying Daggers, you know you're looking at something pretty special.

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