n this series, clicks’n’cuts dilettante Francis Henville describes his descent into the netherworld of Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean commercial pop. Track by track, he navigates deeper into the genre, searching for ever-more-toothsome morsels with which to satiate his jaded appetite…
Hero (Theme Song)
The beginning of this track is deceptively simple. Swelling phased synth pads, delayed piano and something that sounds like a dulcimer set up the chord pattern. They're joined by a surfy guitar, and soon after, by Faye Wong's silken voice. Something confessional, secretive, plaintive and comforting is in the syllables she sings. Each tone is enunciated independently—the range of emotion in even a single line is staggering.
We reach the chorus, and a strange Steve Reich-ish gamelan pattern is introduced. This plays a repeating, atonal rhythm behind the relatively conventional minor-key chorus. Then, after just one repetition, a martial theme on frame drums (bodhrans? taiko drums?) is introduced. We're given another verse, then another chorus—but this one is underpinned by a thundering Aphex Twin breakbeat. The bridge that leads out of the second chorus pushes the already emotional minor theme to a stunning new height before we dip into the same synth and dulcimer theme that began the song.
A landscape of emotions are expressed in this track. It's no wonder that Zhang Yimou selected it as the theme for his masterpiece of light and color, Hero, concieved by the Chinese government as a response to the Taiwanese-directed epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I watched that movie a couple of times back in early 2003, and adored it for its stylistic storytelling, breathtaking locations, and period costumes. But this isn't the place for my pomo dissection of the pervasive Marxist themes behind Hero, so I'll keep them to myself. What I do wish to point out is the undeniably cinematic quality of this track.
Faye Wong is already one of the best known Chinese singers in the world, and this track is just one of many huge hits in her repertoire. Nevertheless, I find the variety of enunciation that characterizes her singing particularly appropriate here. I love the way that she puts so much thought into each syllable of this song, and the way she effortlessly glides among the clouds in her upper range. The melody is quite a simple one, especially in the chorus. But that simplicity affords her a chance to demonstrate her command of her own abilities. She can turn her throat into a glass flute when she wishes to.
Although I find that the synthesized elements to this song have a glassy, digital brittleness to them, they contrast expertly with the lifelike, powerful percussion patterns. The shift from gamelan to frame drum to breakbeat forces my mind to think in pictures, recalling scenes from the film. I presume that the minds of those who haven't seen Hero will wander among images as well.
By: Francis Henville
Published on: 2004-09-09