Category Archives: Hero

Film Review: Hero

Hero is another in a long line of wuxia films to come out of China. Wuxia translates to martial hero, with wuxia films featuring the adventures of such martial artists and heroes. In particular the martial artists of wuxia films, and in Hero, are capable of surreal and supernatural feats. Such feats include but are not limited to flying through the air, running across water, and leaping through the branches of trees as if they weighed no more than a feather. Directed by Zhang Yimou, famous for prior films such as Raise the Red Lantern (1992) and Red Sorghum (1987), Hero is based off of a real assassination attempt in Chinese history and features an all-star cast. Jet Li, famous worldwide for his roles in various action movies, plays the part of Nameless, the nameless protagonist who is ironically named Nameless for his namelessness. Tony Leung, famous primarily in China for his roles in movies such as Infernal Affairs (2002), In the Mood for Love (2000), and Happy Together (1997), plays the part of Broken Sword, one of three assassins at the focal point of the film. Maggie Cheung, another actress famous primarily in China, plays the part of Flying Snow, another one of the three assassins. Finally Donnie Yen, now famous largely for his role as Ip Man in Ip Man (2009), plays the part of Sky, the third assassin.

Unique to Hero is its extravagent use of color within the film. What makes this even more impressive is how naturally the colors exist in the world of Hero, standing out but at the same never emphasized. The film moves seamlessly through dreary black of the King of Qin’s palace, to the bright lucky red of Zhao, to the blue of the King of Qin’s impression, to the white of truth. Just as the colors of the film change, the colors of characters’ costumes and the the scenery itself, so does the audience see the events the film play out several different times with alternating twists.

These twists lead the audience through a series of viewpoints that can affect their perception of the film’s title itself, Hero. Although Nameless is the film’s protagonist, whether or not he is the martial hero to this wuxia film is a theme played upon by Zhang Yimou. This is a theme set by the very beginning of the film, where a message appears across the screen to the audience:

“People give up their lives for many reasons. For friendship, for love, for an ideal. And people kill for the same reasons… In any war there are heroes on both sides…”

This quote (only a part of the complete message given at the beginning of the film) immediately raises the question of what exactly makes a hero, and to whom. People are willing to fight for friendship, love, and ideals, whether that fighting leads to their own death or the deaths of others. Who then, is right in the end, who is the real hero?

If you’re looking for a concrete answer to that question, you may not find what you’re looking for in Hero, but the message the film does provide is still something more than worth consideration, and with the film itself holding the title of highest-grossing film in Chinese film history, it’s well worth a watch.

Film Review: Hero

Beautiful contrast between his red wardrobe and black hair (Broken Sword acted by Tony Leung)
Beautiful contrast between his red wardrobe and black hair
(Broken Sword acted by Tony Leung)

The director of Hero, Zhang Yimou, is one of the most popular Chinese 5th generation film directors. Since his debut with Red Sorghum, he has been made numerous films such as Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lanterns, and Flowers of War. One of his masterpieces, Hero, was released in 2002, and has been famous especially for its beautiful and artistic use of color and impressive martial arts collaborated with majestic nature in mainland China. It is also famous for the widely well-known actors such as Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi who have acted in a lot of Chinese or Hong Kong movies.

 Hero is a story about the Qin state and assassins intending to kill the emperor of Qin during the Warring States period in prehistoric China. The emperor was famous for brutal and relentless politics, and did not allow any unfamiliar people to be close to him because of his fear of assassins. One day, a nameless man comes to see the emperor to show the three swords of Long Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow, very famed assassins in China. Nameless tells three stories about how he killed them, and the emperor allows Nameless to get closer to him. However, the emperor finds out that Nameless is also a part of the assassins. Later, the emperor realizes that Broken Sword understood his feelings about the peaceful unification of China. This is because Nameless confessed the fact that Broken Sword did not kill the emperor because he knew that the emperor has the power to unite China including the Zhao region where Nameless and Broken Sword came from. The emperor passes his sword to Nameless, but he gives up killing the emperor.

 The film has a lot of unique film techniques. In particular, the use of color gives viewers very impressive and strong images of each scene. There are the scenes whose coloring is black, red, blue, green, and white, and the way of coloring is different in each scene. For instance, red is used in actors’ wardrobes or make-up, and it also reflects the passion and love between Broken Sword, Flying Snow, and Moon who is a student of Broken Sword. Their bright red wardrobes have good contrast with actors’ long black hair, and these images create very strong impressions of the story in the viewers’ minds. In the blue scenes, almost everything including settings and actors’ costumes is colored by blue. Actors wear beautiful wardrobes, and their epic figures are outlined by huge blue rocks generating cold and dry atmosphere in the scenes.

The collaboration of martial arts and nature They are like ones of leaves.  (Flying Snow acted by Maggie Cheung / Moon acted by Zhang Ziyi)
The collaboration of martial arts and nature
They are like ones of dancing leaves. (Flying Snow acted by Maggie Cheung / Moon acted by Zhang Ziyi)

 Furthermore, there are many contrasts with nature such as rain, huge rocks, desert, fallen leaves, and lakes. They reflect the harmony between people and magnificent nature especially in action scenes. Throughout the film, these essences of nature are projected very beautifully, and viewers can see how they are collaborated with martial arts. Particularly, at the scene where Nameless and Long Sky fight together, drops of rain, water spray, and dripping water make actors and their swords look very lively and powerful. Slow motion editing enables the watery scene to be more refreshing. When Flying Snow and Moon fight on the yellow ground covered by ginkgo’s leaves, the leaves dance around the actors and sometimes blocks viewers’ sights. This harmony between actors and nature reflects how ancient Chinese people adapted to China’s magnificent nature and lived with it.

These contrasts between actors, colors, and natures not only differentiate each scene clearly, but also express mystic and magnificent nature and its multicolored seasonal images which have been an important part of Chinese people’s lives. Hero is an action movie combining martial arts, but at the same time, the beauty of images refers to Chinese people’s artistic sensation and tradition harmonized with nature in China.

Hero review

Flying Snow (Maggie)
Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)

       Hero was directed by the Chinese film director Zhang Yimou. It was first released in China in 2002 and starred Jet Li, Tony Chiu Wai Leung, and Maggie Cheung. It is an action film based on the talk between the king of Qin and the assassin Nameless.

The main plot of the film is that the protagonist, Nameless, claims that he killed three assassins from Zhao State: Long Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow. These three people have been trying to kill the King of Qin for years and 3 years ago they almost succeeded. The reward for killing these three assassins brings Nameless to a 10 paces space to drink with the King. Nameless explained how he conquered them one by one, but the King questions him constantly and provides his own thoughts.

Nameless, seems to be very stoic and calm; however, people can find his change of mind throughout the candles between him and the King of Qin. The candles normally are not moving, but after Nameless tells his story, these candles become violent and point at the King. The king also can read candles as a symbol of inner mind and indicates his own opinion about the story Nameless told; candles suddenly are turning confusedly toward many directions, showing him flustered and frightened that the King sees through his lies. Nameless says that he abandoned all his feelings because he wants to be the best swordsman; however, his feelings, although not clearly displayed on his face, are exposed by candles in front of him.

Besides the main story line, Zhang Yimou used a non-mainstream editing method which is different from the classic Hollywood style of continuity editing. He used non-linear cuts throughout the movie, which provides better view for the audience to understand what they claim happened. Every memory is matched to their talking and is differed by colors. For example, the first story that Nameless told is based on red, which represents fury, passion and violent. Then the King of Qin also imagined his own version of the story, which is portrayed in blue, and it means lies, conspiracy and distrust. After that, Nameless has nothing to do but tell the truth within white, which represents pure, quiet, and truth. Finally, Nameless talks about the story heard from the Broken Sword portrayed in green, which means hope, dream and vitality.

Tan Dun provided great pieces of music for this film as well. He used simple slow-paced string music as non-diegetic music. The music perfectly fits the background of the film. For example, the first time Long Sky fights with Nameless, an old man is playing with traditional Chinese musical instrument. They barely talk to each other, but people can see their attitude throughout the music. They both know that they should be calm during the fight and tries to blend themselves into the rain and music.

The title of the film, Hero, is very ambiguous. Who is the hero in this film? Nameless is the best assassin who can kill the tyrant and finish his high-pressure dominance. The King of Qin also has his own dream about giving civilians a peaceful, stable environment by eliminating all other States near the Qin State. Broken Sword wants to live in the wild or mountain to escape but he is the only person who understands the big picture of this world and influenced many other people. They are all heroes to me.

Hero Film Review

Hero (2002)
Hero (2002)

Hero is bright, colorful, dramatic, and dazzling. The visual effects, mise-en-scene, and star power come together to create a powerhouse of entertainment.  While the commercial success of the film is a tribute to its blockbuster status, the overall appeal of the film is tainted by the troubling nature of some of the themes. Hero is surely entertaining, but the underlying ideas surrounding power vs. the masses cannot be ignored.

Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)
Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)

Hero takes place during the Warring States period of Chinese history, occurring just before the King of Qin succeeds in creating a unified China. The story follows the journey of a skilled martial arts fighter called Nameless (Jet Li), who is credited with killing three assassins–Long Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung), and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)–who attempted to murder the King of Qin (Chen Daoming). As a reward for his feats, Nameless receives the honor of sitting within 10 paces of the king. During their time together the king asks Nameless to recount the stories of killing the assassins. The rest of the film is made up of smaller stories told by Nameless and the king, interspersed with returns to the conversation between the two men. Nameless and the king of Qin engage in a battle of their own, fought within their minds.

King of Qin (Chen Daoming)
King of Qin (Chen Daoming)

Hero, directed by Zhang Yimou, was released in 2002 and was the most expensive project in the history of Chinese cinema. After its release, Hero also became the highest grossing film in China’s history. The film was not released in the U.S. until 2004, where it debuted as #1 and garnered the second highest opening weekend for a foreign language film. Hero was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Alfred Bauer Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

I would argue that Hero‘s international success is largely due to its visual appeal. The film includes beautifully choreographed fight scenes that resemble dances more so than battles. Despite Hero’s categorization as a martial arts film, emphasis is placed on the beauty and skill of the craft rather than the violence. The costumes and set design work in conjunction with the choreography to create a visual masterpiece. Typical of Zhang Yimou, the colors in Hero are vibrant and emotionally charged, highlighting the action and overarching ideas within every scene and the film as a whole.

blue sno
Flying Snow in battle

Needless to say, Hero was an international success from both a commercial and critical perspective. However, I found that the visually beautiful scenes often eclipse the film’s major themes. Some of the visual elements assist in emphasizing nationalism (surrounding a common Chinese identity), but often distract from some of the more troubling aspects of the film. Hero is meant to convey a sense of pride in a national identity, but it also implies that the masses are not capable of deciding their own fate. Instead, the masses must place their trust in the implied superior intelligence of the ruling body. Troubling indeed.

Hero is undeniably an entertaining film. Its visual elements are absolutely captivating and the plot will keep viewers on their toes. I would recommend watching this film for the quality of entertainment, but not for the content of its overall message. I believe it is certainly possible to enjoy Hero, but, as with any film, it is also important to maintain a critical eye towards the underlying themes.