Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) is a profoundly beautiful and moving film that celebrates Chinese culture and tradition and promotes noble and patriotic sentiments. Hero is based very loosely on an actual event that took place in 227 BCE near the end of the Warring States Period. It tells the story of an attempt to assassinate Qin Shi Huang, the King of Qin and later the first Emperor of China.
Because of the previous attempts of three assassins—Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword—the King of Qin does not allow anyone within 100 paces of his throne. However, when word comes that a local prefect known only as Nameless has killed all three assassins, the King summons him to court to be rewarded.
For killing Sky, Nameless is rewarded with 1,000 pieces of gold and feudal authority over 1,000 households. He is invited to advance to 20 paces from the throne, drink with the King, and tell him the story of his battle.
The battle will surprise anyone who is unfamiliar with the conventions of Chinese wuxia cinema, which I like to call “flying Chinaman” films. The Chinese believe that their martial arts can endow them with super powers, including the ability to fly. It seems jarring to most, but as someone who has had recurring dreams of flight since childhood, I found it easy to suspend disbelief. It is no more jarring than people breaking into song in a musical, and it must be appreciated for its beauty, not its realism. It is a breath-taking combination of martial arts with gymnastics, ballet, and acrobatics.
Next, Nameless killed Broken Sword and Flying Snow, a male-female team of estranged lovers. As his reward, Nameless is given 10,000 pieces of gold, authority over 5,000 households, and invited to sit 10 paces from the throne, drink with the king, and tell his story.
It is here that Yimou adopts one of his most bold and captivating cinematic gestures. The tale of Flying Snow and Broken Sword is told three times, each in a different color scheme: red, blue, and white. Later, when Broken Sword tells his own tale, the color scheme is green. Each tint indicates a particular subjective slant, but, as with Kurosawa’s Rashomon, there is no question that there is a real story under all the different perspectives.
When Nameless tells the story of how he defeated Flying Snow and Broken Sword, the color palate is red, and they are portrayed with scruffy-looking bangs. The suggestion is that they are emotionally overwrought and impulsive. Nameless explains that Flying Snow had once had an affair with Sky, which is why she and Broken Sword were estranged. When he showed them Sky’s broken spear, their simmering jealousy flared up, and Flying Snow killed Broken Sword. The next morning, Flying Snow met Nameless in single combat. But she was emotionally out of control, so he was able to kill her.
The King, however, disbelieves the story. He has met Flying Snow and Broken Sword three years before, when they stormed his palace together and almost assassinated him. He saw them to be noble warriors, not the hysterical punks described by Nameless.
The King concludes that Nameless, too, is an assassin. Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword must have sacrificed their lives so that Nameless could advance to 10 paces from the throne. Nameless must have perfected a move that would allow him to kill the King at that distance before help could come. “It seems,” says the King, “that I shall not escape my fate.”
When the King retells the story of Flying Snow and Broken Sword as he imagines it, the color scheme is a celestial blue. The two assassins are elegantly groomed and attired, exquisitely sensitive and decorous, and above all noble. It reveals that the King has a romantic and chivalrous imagination.
When Broken Sword tells Nameless the story of his life, culminating in his attempt to assassinate the King three years before, he explains that at the moment he could have killed the King, he stopped, for he realized that there was a greater good than his personal mission, a greater good than the kingdom of Zhao for which he fought: namely the good of “our land,” by which he meant not Zhao or Qin, but all of China. The good of China required peace, and peace required unification under a single Emperor. The King of Qin had the power to unify the seven kingdoms, so the greater good demanded that he be allowed to continue. So Broken Sword aborted his mission when victory was in his grasp.
Nameless relates this story to the King, who is moved to tears—as are most viewers. He claims that nobody before had understood his motivations. Even his own court regarded him as a tyrant. In truth, Qin Shi Huang was a tyrant and a philistine, who in the name of unity burnt books and executed scholars. Hero portrays him as a sensitive and refined man who was deeply concerned with the good of all his people. He may not be the real first Emperor, but be would be an ideal first Emperor, rather like Cyrus as portrayed in Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus.
I will say no more about the plot, save that history records that the King of Qin actually did go on to unify China as the first Emperor, building the Great Wall and a massive tomb complex, guarded by a life-sized terracotta army, which is still being excavated near present-day Xi’an.
Hero is an epic film, yet it tells its story with amazing economy, lasting only 99 minutes. It is emotionally moving and conveys a very serious moral and political message, namely the good of national unity and the forms of self-discipline and self-sacrifice necessary to achieve it. Another important theme, exemplified in all the characters, is the unity of cultural refinement and martial virtue. Calligraphy and swordsmanship are developed in unison and illuminate one another. Hero upholds the full range of noble, aristocratic virtues: courage, self-control, self-discipline, good manners, aesthetic refinement, chivalry, and self-sacrifice. It is a pleasure to see a movie free of clods screaming obscenities at each other and rutting like pigs.
Hero is very well-acted. Nameless is played by Jet Li, Flying Snow by Maggie Cheung, and Sky by Donnie Yen. The best performances are the magnificent Chen Daoming as the King and Tony Leung as Broken Sword. But even minor roles are superbly realized, my favorite being the dignified and unflappable elderly master of a calligraphy school under military siege.
Hero is also a feast for the senses, with breathtaking landscapes and sumptuous interiors. The opening scenes, when Nameless arrives at the Qin court, are particularly spectacular and clearly influenced by Triumph of the Will. The ritual and hierarchy of the Qin court, with its Greek chorus of gray-clad courtiers who swarm like mice, is awe-inspiring, as is the march of the Qin army. The gorgeous soundtrack, which sounds like Chinese Ennio Morricone music, was composed by Tan Dun, who has also composed an opera about Qin Shi Huang called The First Emperor.
I highly recommend Hero. It is a pleasure to see that not everything Made in China is cheap, toxic junk. But it is also sad that whites must go so far afield to find films that uphold patriotism, refinement, and nobility. Spiritually speaking, however, I found this film far less alien than most Hollywood movies, even those with all white casts. Watch Hero for a concrete experience of what movies would be like if our film industry were not controlled by an alien and hostile people out to degrade and destroy us.
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Wow, Hero is one of my favorite movies. I thought the colors in the retellings symbolized the states of the assassins’ consciousness, ie their motivating principals: red=passion, blue=intellect or rationality, white=idealism(the true motive with “communist” subtext), green=naivete.
One of this director’ s earlier efforts, Raise the Red Lantern, is also rather awesome, although a completely different sort of movie. The artistry and beauty are similarly breath taking.
I remember when Hero was released in the West, movie critics (jews) went crazy calling the movie fascist. Jews take great offense in slight challenges to their power.
Asian cinema gets state culture support at least in terms of China and South Korea so perhaps that would explain a nationalistic tone to films.
Chinese cinema is being supported and promoted by the state as a foreign PR offensive to promote Chinese culture. Although given China’s history of humiliation and occupation by foreign powers first Britain then Japan they are naturally inclined to be nationalistic.
I don’t think the establishment is to comfortable about China’s growing cultural as there are usually attack articles against China in the establishment Foreign Policy website that featured on this website in relation to Kevin MacDonald and China using financial resources to buy up a cinema chain in the US.
With all the hype received about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero was what I expected that film to be that slow that was surprisingly slow and rather boring just Hero despite having the tagline ” Quentin Tarantino present” for western release did not receive nearly as much publicity.
Hero director also directed China fantastic Olympic opening ceremony as compared to London highlighting the most superficial materialistic and boring aspects of modern British history and culture as John McLaughlin of The McLaughlin Group rightfully awarded it the Most Boring award of 2012.
I have not watched either properly that I unfortunately fell asleep and missed most of the Chinese opening ceremony and what I saw of the British opening ceremony with JK Rowling and the NHS did not want to watch anymore.
If the Chinese ceremony is on YouTube I might watch it.
“But it is also sad that whites must go so far afield to find films that uphold patriotism, refinement, and nobility. Spiritually speaking, however, I found this film far less alien than most Hollywood movies, even those with all white casts”
Recent Russian films seems to have a nationalist tone to them.
Not speaking Russian or seen any of the films I cannot comment on the quality but the latest film The Horde that has been attacked as being pro-Russian and historical inaccurate by western commentators and outlets like RFE/RL looks like an interesting film.
I hope they have an English language subtitle or dubbed release.
“China’s growing cultural influence”
“expected that film to be that was surprisingly slow and rather boring just that Hero despite having the tagline ” Quentin Tarantino present” for western release did not receive nearly as much publicity.”
One of the big giant staring-in-your-face themes in this film is exploring perspectives of an event from many different angles, and there’s nothing (well, nothing so clumsy as the hollywood pap we’re fed on) pushing the audience in one direction for the typical low brow gratification of seeing the “bad guy” lose to the “good guy” in the same way that once upon a time every act of a play in a theatre was performed initially by clowns for the benefit of the dumb-dumbs in the aisles who without being expressly told what was about to happen in the upcoming act wouldn’t understand what was going on (or so we’re told). Hollywood is like that.. but in total reverse as the clowns perform a dumbed down version of the play that can’t possibly be misconstrued by the audience, and it’s just repetitive and boring.
I don’t see the same thing in Asian Cinema; the dumbing down influence may be lacking and maybe Asian Cinema is actually a case study of what filmmakers can do when they aren’t held back by a board of executives complaining that one aspect or another “won’t sell” or being held back by political correctness.
Or maybe it’s because the actors are homogeneous and there’s no pretentiousness that a hero has to be a minority or that a jew has to be written in and portrayed as lovable… without these things holding it back the writers story itself can be told; a man and woman can fall in love, and it is what it is and it’s beautiful because of it.
Sorry, I got carried away.
I was just going to say that “exploring perspectives” as a theme or as a style of cinematography and story telling is something I’m starting to notice. As a style in itself it’s valuable to give the audience that much needed perspective in a political context… read into that what you will.
Spiritually speaking, however, I found this film far less alien than most Hollywood movies, even those with all white casts.
Me too, I feel less alienated watching a Jackie Chan action flick than the latest Hollywood schlock.
What a dream if we could have films of that spirit in the West! The Chinese prove that it is possible to do this kind of stuff in modern times as well.
Not that it means anything, but it downright angers me, to see Tarantino’s name attached to this film, especially after the loathsome “Django Unchained” and all the postracial love it spreads…
I mean, I was even ready to forgive him “Inglourious Basterds” for all its ambiguities and playful, almost subversive approach and Waltz’ performance, but this draws the line, really.
From the opening:
Title card: People give up their lives for many reasons.
Title card: For friendship, for love, for an ideal
Title card: And people kill for the same reasons…
Title card: Before China was one great country, it was divided into seven warring states.
Title card: In the Kingdom of Qin was a ruthless ruler. He had a vision – To unite the land.
Title card: to put an end, once and for all, to war.
Title card: It was an idea soaked in the blood of his enemies.
Title card: In any war there are heroes on both sides…
When this historical perspective is applied to other lands and eras, you can see why danger lies within this foreign-made film.
The rising Han see the world differently than the world’s current rulers (and current serfs).
I saw Hero when it first came out, but I was too young to appreciate the story, although everything else about the movie was stunning. I really need to see it again.
White nationalists, or nationalists of any stripe, should pay attention to this topic, as it is very instructive anent the place of film in propaganda, and in promoting certain social and political views.
Chinese cinema is different because it is not, for them, controlled by an alien people. It is indigenous. Beginning with the early days of Chinese cinema, it has also had a distinct socio-political tint, not always helpful from the standpoint of the regime, but most always pro greater-China. One can see this in movies such as Street Angel 1937, The Classic for Girls (1934), and Daybreak (1933).
After the Chinese Communists founded the PRC in 1949 the movie industry remained politicized, but the themes mirrored state sponsored themes, and they took on a didactic purpose. Said to be one of the greatest Chinese films, Springtime in a Small Town (1948), showed a profound insight into the emotion of marriage and family life, but because it was not political, but personal, it was deemed unsuitable by the authorities. Instead, revolutionary themed films were produced, such as Breaking With Old Ideas, filmed in 1975 but hearkening back to the earlier Great Leap Forward years, and Railroad Guerillas 1956.
Certain movies were based upon traditional themes, yet were necessarily communized in a politically correct way. An example would be The White Haired Girl (1950), where the hero is the Eighth Route Army, whose soldiers prove that the Taoist ghost is acturally a nascent revolutionary, a peasant girl fighting the landed class.
During the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Qing (a former actress herself) headed the propaganda department, and produced films meant to honor the party line (which was not an easy thing to do as the line was subject to frequent and rapid change, often without notice, and no one could be certain whether today’s line would be tomorrow’s reactionary, or counter-revolutionary line). The most famous of these may be The Red Detachment of Women, actually two movies, one a drama, and the other a ballet.
After the overthrow of the Jiang Qing clique, and the triumph of Deng Xiaoping’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” a certain liberalization has been allowed. During the CR, all Chinese tradition had been deprecated, but now, Chinese cinema is taking the route available to it in order to recover their past tradition. Hero is one example, but there are many. These movies show ancient dynastic regimes as the historical foundation for what culminated with the Chinese Communist revolutions–that is, the unification of the mainland. Most tend to revolve around the so-called Three Kingdoms period. The reason for this is clear. The party wishes to show the people that only through unification can China prosper.
Interestingly, one recent Chinese film, Flowers of War (2011), has the protagonist as an American reprobate turned good in his role as an ersatz Catholic priest. Anyone interested in the current political climate of China should pay close attention to their aesthetics, and the “message” that is contained therein. As an aside, most of the early films cited are not copyrighted, and may be found at the Internet Archive repository.
One final point worth mentioning, communism in China is not internationalist, but rather nationalist.
Asian Communism, be it in China, Korea or Indochina, has its origins in the radical wing of early 20th century modernist nationalism. The internationalist element in Asian Communism was largely pragmatic rather than ideological (i.e. Soviet guns and money were useful…).
Ah, at last a movie that I might like, so I risked ordering a used copy. I used to be into everything Chinese, like Feng Shui, the I Ching and the Tao. Then I remembered I was not Chinese when my son went to China and brought me back one of those Feng Shui compasses and I realized I had no idea how to use it. He is good at that sort of thing. Subtle, yet effective.
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