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'Hero' Takes Aim at World Box Office
Assassins will emerge from the mists of ancient history later this year in another Chinese assault on the international box office.

'Hero', a martial arts movie about a man protecting his emperor from killers more than 2,000 years ago, follows the lead of Academy Award-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in seeking an international audience well beyond China.

Made for around $15 million, "Crouching Tiger" was the first non-English movie to gross more than $100 million at the US box office -- raising the international status of Chinese-language films and sparking a new craze for martial arts films.

'Hero', a Chinese-language movie made with a budget of $31 million by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, is also seeking to attract international audiences.

"We have wanted to shoot a film with a story that foreigners will understand, and to enable them to understand why Chinese are so infatuated with martial arts," Zhang, speaking in Mandarin, told a news conference in Hong Kong.

"The tempo, action and scenes, and so on cater to international tastes."

Critics have already suggested that 'Hero', in which action star Jet Li battles three assassins who aimed to murder a notoriously ruthless emperor, could match the success of "Crouching Tiger". Zhang has more modest aims.

"It was extraordinary for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to get so many nominations and awards. It was a miracle. I don't think history will repeat itself. Miracles won't repeat," said Zhang Yimou, a two-time Venice film festival winner.

Zhang says the success of "Crouching Tiger" has boosted investors' confidence in Chinese movies and made it easier for him to seek the HK$240 million ($31 million) funding for 'Hero'.

By comparison, the average US studio film costs nearly $50 million to produce with another $31 million spent on marketing.

'Hero' also features "Crouching Tiger" princess Zhang Ziyi, Cannes Film Festival best actor Tony Leung, and Berlin Film Festival best actress Maggie Cheung.

Cheung and Leung play two of the assassins while Zhang Ziyi is cast in the more lowly role of a servant in the historical epic, set in a period of warring Chinese states more than 2,000 years ago.

Director Zhang has hired three offshore companies -- two in the United States and one in Australia -- to do the post-production work and computer effects for 'Hero'.

"We want to get the best and strongest companies," he said. "Today, mainland Chinese computer technology and special effects are not up to international standards."

(China Daily August 3, 2002)

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