Movies based on successful television series are natural progressions to make a quick buck, mainly because of the more instant box office dollars it gets translated to. But what I apprehend the most, is when the approach is to not worry whether non-television series followers would be able to get it, so it decides not to afford the time to explain matters, expecting the bulk of the audience to be coming with background knowledge from the series. When you are one of the series' followers, you'll make camp on the side to forgo previous cinematic time on explanation so that the pace does not get slowed, but if you are not, then you'll probably cry foul, not that you don't get to enjoy the movie though, but are lusting after a more complete experience.
For example, the X-Files movie requires pre-requisite knowledge, as did the Japanese movie Mushishi. But there are some which still managed to only require the most basic level of understanding, and to use a Japanese reference, I enjoyed the Bayside Shakedown movies tremendously. Did I enjoy Hero? Sure, but there were enough moments in the movie where you can't help but want to pull your hair in frustration, especially when it comes to bit appearances by minor characters, whom you'll most certainly deem important enough to warrant significant subplot time in the narrative.
Hero is similar to structure with Bayside Shakedown, in that on the surface, it contains one major plot, with the rest of the supporting subplots inevitably linked to the one big one, thereby giving reason for the ensemble cast to exist. Takuya Kimura, whom we last saw as a samurai in Yoji Yamada's Love and Honor, returns to his 2001 television role as Public Prosecutor Kohei Kruyu, a devoted go-getter who is unorthodox in his ways (aren't they all?). Assisting him is his trustworthy legal clerk Amamiya Maiko (Takako Matsu), and together they take on a rather routine open-and-shut case involving manslaughter, especially with a written confession provided. But there's more than meets the eye to the supposedly simple case, and soon enough, they find their legal battle spiral to involve scandals of government officials, and have to go up against a top legal eagle who used to be on the payroll of the Public Prosecutor office.
Bayside Shakedown provided some criticisms to the police system, highlighting the struggles and battles between the bureaucrats in the department, and those on the beat handling day to day, routine and sometimes mundane police work. I thought Hero could have upped the ante if it debated on the judicial system, providing some insight on how things work rather than just a basic introduction. It lapsed into moralistic viewpoints should this be a perfect world with perfect systems, and very often reminded the audience that Justice is Blind with the frequent shots of a statue of Justice holding up the scales.
But not everything's serious and full of legal jargon and mumbo-jumbo. Credit has to be given in weaving a more than compelling investigative and legal drama, with romantic tension between Amamiya and Kohei, as well as plenty of comedy. Those television sell-a-vision ads are so funny they are a highlight in the movie (I'm not sure if these are regular features in the television series?), and it managed to work into its narrative an explanation of its absence for 6 years since the television series ended, and the characters naturally being aged. Familiar to me in this movie are the actors Hiroshi Abe and Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, who has so minor a role (combined screen time of less than 5 minutes), I'm not sure why the trailer had to hype about it, rather than to keep it a guessing game (is he? or isn't he?).
However, that is not to say that Hero is a bad film. It still offers decent entertainment, especially for those who are fans of the many stars it has in its ensemble, and for those who like this genre of legal investigative movies. Recommended.