Gongfu Movies: “Hero”

A few days ago, I was looking for a movie to watch; I wanted to watch a movie about China, but I’m (unfortunately) not very familiar with Chinese cinema. I had already seen “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” “Farewell my concubine,” “Raise the Red Lantern.” I wanted to watch a Gongfu film and so I found “Hero” or (英雄).  Hero first interested me because of all the awards it won, and all of the controversy it generated after its release. Hero has a lot of well choreographed sword fighting, and the director Yimou’s stylistic design shines though out. His style emphasizes the beauty and elegance in the film’s Wushu fighting style.

Hero is a “story in a story” film set during China’s warring states period. The movie opens with a man telling the Emperor of Qin Dynasty China how he killed three assassins who had previously attempted to assassinate the Emperor. These three assassins were so skilled that Emperor accuses him of lying, in an attempt to earn the emperor’s trust so that the nameless warrior could assassinate him. The nameless protagonist admits that he was lying, but that the nameless warrior has no intention of killing the emperor.

His reasoning drew controversy from many of the critics who reviewed the film. The Nameless warrior realized that the only way for peace was for all of China to be unified under one dynasty. He realized this after asking broken sword why he decided not to kill the emperor. Many argued that this interpretation prized security over liberty in a poorly veiled pro-unification propaganda piece. The critique argued that this film just followed the stereotype that “Asian values” did not include human rights. The director of the film Zhang Yimou, protested against this criticism at the Cannes Film festival, and instead stressed that the theme of the message, peace conquers all. While it’s hard to disagree that the film promotes prounification and is essentially propaganda, I think the traditional critique does leave out the peace theme that Zhang expressed at Cannes. This peace theme is very strong during the nameless protagonists’ encounter with the emperor, in which the emperor stresses that the ultimate ideal is for the perfect warrior to realize he doesn’t need his sword. The ultimate ideal is to transcend violence. Ultimately, I loved the film, and I’m going to watch it again.



Here, Emperor Qin’s guards have not yet realized the Ultimate ideal.