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.
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.