Hero (2002)

Rated PG-13 Our content rating: V-4; L-1; S/N-3

Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones,
and those who have knowledge than those who have strength;
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.
Proverbs 23:5-6

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
Matthew 16:24-26

Hero

If you liked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then you probably will love director Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Although filled with tree-leaping aerial swordfights, Zhang Yimou’s film is much more of a political and spiritual allegory or myth. The auteur of Raise the Red Lantern and The Road Home this time takes us back to the beginning of the Chinese Empire in the third century B.C when China was comprised of several warring kingdoms. The King of Qin, Chin Shi Huang Di (Daoming Chen), is a brutal tyrant who seems to have one redeemable characteristic, the vision to end the all too frequent, bloody wars among the rival nations by conquering the other kingdoms and thus unify the land. He has been the target of three assassination attempts so that he allows no one to come close to him at court. His nights filled with nightmares of his own death, he decides to take out a contract on the three major assassins, Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), Sky (Donnie Yen).

The king is surprised when a minor provincial official who calls himself The Nameless One (Jet Li) comes to the court claiming to have already killed the would-be assassins. As he relates how he came to be an accomplished swordsman and then killed the assassins, the king rewards the swordsman with titles, money, and the right to come closer to the throne. This continues with each story of a dual, until the Nameless One is, at ten paces, far closer to the king than the royal guards. For proof of his claims he offers up the renowned weapons each warrior-assassin.

No fool, the king deduces that the Nameless One himself is an assassin himself, and we go back, Rashomon-like, to the episodes and see a far different version of what happened. This revised version includes a love story and conflicting loyalties, and a willingness to take risks and repress personal desires for glory in the cause for a greater good.

Visually the film is exquisite, with each episode with Li and the three assassins shot in its own unique dominant color. The dual amidst swirling autumn leaves is eye dazzling. As in Crouching Tiger…, the fighters soar over roof and tree tops, making it abundantly clear that we are watching fantasy and not reality. The fight choreography is by the master stunt specialist Siu-Tung Ching. The CGI battle scenes between huge armies are striking, the sun being almost blacked out at times by the cloud of arrows unleashed by the corps of archers.

The ending will intrigue and leave you thinking. Does the filmmaker mean the moral to be that peace can be obtained only by violent conquest (thus giving aid and comfort to backers of the current war on Iraq), or—? There will probably be plenty of buzz about the film, thanks to its nomination by China for “Best Foreign Film” for this year’s Academy Awards—and the buzz might be as much about the filmmaker’s underlying political views as much as about his artistic abilities. Those who deal with the latter ought to take into consideration that the film was made under the scrutiny of Chinese government censors, whose approval was necessary before it could be released for distribution.

For Reflection/Discussion

:

1) How do the colors of each major dual scene befit what takes place?

2) What do you think of the three levels that Li speaks of concerning combat: a. The sword and warrior become one; b. The sword becomes an internal part of the warrior; c. The sword no longer exists because the warrior has progressed beyond the desire to kill?

3) How do the characters (other than the king) show that self-sacrifice is a part of their make-up?

4) How did you feel at the end of the film concerning the fate of the Nameless One? How did he “take up the cross”?