The Regent Film Library has a variety of international films available to students, faculty, and staff. One of these films is Hero, an award-winning martial arts film directed by Zhang Yimou, starring martial artist Jet Li. The movie initially premiered in China in 2002, but Miramax later allowed American theaters to show the film in 2004 after being persuaded by film director Quentin Tarantino to do so.
Hero takes place in China during the Warring States period (c. 475-221 BC). Near the end of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, seven nation-states in China–Qin, Zhao, and five others–created an alliance and sent military forces to defend the Emperor. However, the states later wanted independence, and they eventually waged war against each other. Around the 3rd century B.C., Qin’s military forces threaten to defeat and dominate the other nation-states. Hero shows how some will defend the independence of their countries at all costs.
The movie begins after an assassination attempt on Qin’s king to prevent his conquest. In light of this attempt and recent others, news spreads quickly that Nameless, the protagonist, has killed three of the most dangerous royal assassins: Long Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword. Nameless arrives at the Qin palace and presents the assassins’ swords to the king. The movie switches between real-time events (Nameless speaking with the king in the throne room) and flashbacks (Nameless’s adventure).
As a martial arts film about war, Hero explores the complex nature of heroism through the warriors in the film. All of the warriors need strength and speed, but the movie reveals that warriors also rely on patience, serenity, and harmony with nature to win their battles. The movie never explicitly describes an honor code among warriors; however, thoroughly emphasizes how its characters take honor seriously. For instance, during swordfights, some characters express concerns about fighting those who are disarmed, unfairly outnumbered, or refusing to fight. The movie also presents conflicting ideas about honor: while some characters fight to avenge their loved ones, their opponents may express more concerns about national pride or the safety of their community.
Hero also raises questions about the morality of Qin’s campaign. Some of the characters who try to kill Qin’s king come from Zhao; they seek revenge after the king killed the characters’ family members. Even when the king speaks with Nameless, the king unashamedly admits that he wants to conquer the states before expanding his kingdom. However, other characters also wonder whether Qin’s conquest will bring peace by ending the war among the states. Even after Hero proposes an answer, the movie may still cause viewers to ponder this question.
Overall, I recommend Hero for its phenomenal storytelling and stunning visuals. The film has a PG-13 rating due to violence throughout the film and one scene of brief sensuality; viewer discretion is encouraged. Considering that Hero is an Eastern film, those who watch it should also be aware of and open to international film styles and themes. The Regent Film Library has two DVDs of Hero available for checkout.