This is about the 2002 Chinese movie. For the 1996 movie released in America as Hero, see Accidental Hero. For other uses of "hero", see Hero.
Hero is a Wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou and released in 2002. Starring Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung and Donnie Yen, it is set in the troubled transitional period between the Warring Kingdoms and the Qin Dynasty, when the ruthlessly despotic King of Qin was in the process of annexing the other kingdoms of China and incorporating them wholesale into his own.Jet Li plays Wu Ming ("Nameless"), ostensibly a minor official who claims to have vanquished three assassins out to kill the King (Broken Sword, Long Sky and Flying Snow) before he has a chance to declare himself Emperor. As he tells his story to the terminally paranoid King, things turn outnot to be asthey seem.The movie generated political controversy, as the ending was interpreted by some as a justification of despotic rule, and as such an endorsement of the current Chinese authoritarian regime.
Antagonist in Mourning: The Emperor realizes that, despite their differences, Nameless actually understands him better than anyone else ever did. After his soldiers execute Nameless, he gives him an honorable burial in recognition of his respect for him.
Armor Is Useless: None of the assassins wear any armor. The shields carried by the royal guard are apparently made of styrofoam judging by their resistance to the swordstrokes of Flying Snow and Broken Sword. The King wears armor to protect himself from assassins, but is still aware that Broken Sword and Nameless are capable of killing him at will.
Arrow Catch: When an arrow breaks the rod he was using to practice his calligraphic skills in sand, Broken Sword just grabs the next arrow and uses it to resume his writing.
Authority Equals Asskicking: While the king is not as good as the four assassins, he gives Broken Sword more of a fight than his entire army. However, Nameless averts this: while he is the second-strongest swordsman in the film (only surpassed by Broken Sword), he is only a lowly prefect.
Bodyguarding A Badass: Two assassins assault the imperial palace, cutting through a small army to do so. When they reach the emperor, the weaker of the two stays behind to hold off the whole army alone, while the other goes in to duel the emperor in single combat. "The Imperial Guard are not worthy of mention," indeed.
Central Theme: "One person's pain is nothing, when compared to the suffering of all." In other words, uniting a collection of warring kingdoms does far more good than getting revenge on your homeland's enemy. Sometimes, submitting to a hated foe is ultimately for the best.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: During the green flashback, Flying Snow and Broken Sword storm the castle of the King of Qin. They carve right past three thousand imperial guard, but the Emperor fighting alone poses more of a challenge.
Cool Old Guy: The master of the Zhao calligraphy school. With arrows raining down on the school and students fleeing in panic, he announces that today they will learn the true spirit of their art, sits down at the front of the room, and calmly begins practicing calligraphy. He's so badass that the students hurry to return to their seats and follow his example.
Cut-and-Paste Translation: A minor one. Broken Sword's real name is High Mountain, while Flying Snow's real name is Flowing Water. They were implied to have earned the nicknames Broken Sword and Flying Snow because of the swords they were using when they storm the castle, and because the King and his subjects did not know their real names. However, there is no mention of this in the english dub or english subtitles.
Death Seeker: Nameless. Broken Sword already convinced him not to kill the Emperor, but he knows that he can't live with himself if he doesn't confront him just once. In the end, he willingly submits to the Emperor and lets his soldiers kill him without fighting back.
Perhaps subverted, as Nameless was clearly shown at the beginning to still have a strong desire to kill the Emperor, which the Emperor's candles managed to detect. Later, the candles detected that Nameless was now uncertain about his decision to kill the Emperor. Finally, Nameless decided to abandon the assassination, as he decided that the unity of China does far more good than revenge.
The Empire: Qin, pronounced "chin," a.k.a. the future government of Chin-a.
The King of Qin had wanted to live forever. He couldn't, but he has survived in one way. The word "Qin", pronounced "chin", had given us the word "China". In a way, the First Emperor's name will never die.
Evil Overlord: Subverted. The King of Qin is initially presented as an evil overlord, but Broken Sword argues that in unifying China, the King has actually done a great service to the people. Still, the King needs a lesson in humanity to earn his subject's loyalty. The film was criticized in some circles for being overly kind to the King.
Foreshadowing: When Nameless tells the Emperor about his visit to Broken Sword's calligraphy school, he mentions that there are a surprising number of variations of the calligraphic character for "sword". The Emperor comments that this variation in language causes far too much confusion, and that it would be much better if the kingdoms of China shared a common language. In the end, Nameless submits to the Emperor specifically because he knows that his efforts will ultimately unify China and bring peace between the kingdoms. Indeed, standardizing the written Chinese language is one of the key achievements by Qin Shi Huang that is specifically referenced at the end of the movie..
Highly Visible Assassin: Broken Sword and Flying Snow are so powerful that they simply carve though the King's entire royal guard and walk right into his throne room, rather than make any pretense of secrecy, as one would normally expect from an assassin.
The King. Even the most idealistic interpretation of the movie cannot drag him entirely free of the gravitational pull of the Moral Event Horizon that he crossed in real life. Nor does it especially try too.
Nameless. The actual assassin that Nameless is based on merely drew a poisoned dagger and chased the king around the throne room until the king was able to draw his sword and stab him.
Honor Before Reason: Just about every character except the King. Except at the end, when even he is willing to die and actually gives the nameless assassin his sword, despite claiming earlier that he wasn't so noble as to die for idealism, because he discovered Broken Sword understood what he was trying to do.
Implausible Fencing Powers: As any wuxia film, the abilities of the warriors are supernatural. At various points, they deflect storms of arrows without getting nicked, chop arrows in half in midair, swordfight on water, and chop through shields effortlessly.
Importation Expansion: The opening and closing sequences of the American version was changed. Changes for the opening sequence include the addition of a map of ancient China and a different description; the line "In any war there are heroes on both sides..." is not present on the original Chinese version. Also, the closing sequence have a different description; in the original Chinese version, it was not outright stated that Nameless was executed as an assassin but buried as a hero. That line was presumably added to make it easier for viewers to understand that Nameless was given a hero's funeral.
Interface Spoiler: The english subtitles sort of lessen the visual shock of the fact that Nameless spared the King since his whole sentence appears subbed all at once, while ignoring the pause that he put into his sentence that sets up the big reveal.
Mundane Made Awesome: Calligraphy, which is linked to both bravery and swordsmanship. At the calligraphy school, the head teacher insists that the students make a last stand practicing calligraphy as arrows rain down on them. Broken Sword's swordsmanship is directly linked to his skill at calligraphy. During the battle at the school, Broken Sword casually practices calligraphy amidst the downpour of arrows, and later majestically paints a banner.
No Name Given: Nameless was orphaned at a young age and was never given a name. As a result, people just call him Nameless.
Not So Different: The King and Broken Sword. Demonstrated when the King can interpret Broken Sword's calligraphy while Nameless cannot.
One-Man Army: Nameless and Flying Snow have the ability to block and deflect storms of arrows fired from a massive army utilizing nothing but a sword and some very long sleeves, respectively. Also, three years ago, Broken Sword and Flying Snow cut through thousands of palace guards as if they were cardboard all on their own in an effort to kill the King.
The Reveal: Midway through the film, we learn that Nameless was lying about his entire story, and that he's in league with the assassins. The King then narrates what he think happened, and then Nameless proceeds to describe what actually happened.
Rousseau Was Right: There are no truly "evil" characters in this film; all of them are trying to make the world a peaceful and happy place, the only way they know how.
Of note is a sword fight taking place on (yes, on) a lake that is perfectly still and gives reflections like mirrors. This is a real lake in China, but its surface is only that placid about three hours a day. Combine this with the set-ups required for Wire Fu and they could get maybe two shots done during those three hours.
There's also the fight between Broken Sword and the King, where the King realizes Broken Sword is lurking in the banners in the court, and cuts them down, and they all fall to the ground in the most majestic way possible.
Scheherezade Gambit: Wu Ming is given a rare audience with the King to tell him his story about how the defeated the three most powerful asassins. The story is only an excuse to be given an audience with the King so Wu Ming could assasinate him.
Scry vs. Scry: Nameless and Sky's duel plays out entirely in their minds, save for the final blow.
Shown Their Work: When the Emperor learns that there are 19 different ways to write the word "sword", he comments that this is bothersome and he should do something about it. Which he did.
Single Tear: The King of Qin sheds one tear when he realizes the only man who understands him is his enemy.
Worthy Opponent: The King of Qin recognizes Nameless as this when his assassination attempt fails. Sky to the marshals attempting to arrest him; they are willing to let him walk off after he defeats them and spares their lives.