Nameless, a warrior is called to defeat the King of Quin's enemies.
Hero is one of those movies about which you could say - “It was painted” rather than “It was shot”. Visually spectacular with some of the most beautifully choreographed fights and sequences, Hero was a hit not just in China but wowed audiences globally. Steven Schneider lists it in his “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” Director Yimou Zhang, who later directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, uses an extravagant canvas - colour is splashed and while it falls it also tells a tale, takes us in a different direction and leaves us questioning assumptions.
The opening title cards are filled with portent:
“People give up their lives for many reasons. For friendship, for love, for an ideal...And people kill for the same reasons…”. The plot combines these elements with mystery and illusion - friendship and betrayal, love and fear, ideals and expediency. Everything is not what it seems. Behind the colours we are not sure what is real and what is illusion.
Jet Li is Nameless - a warrior whose quest to destroy the King of Qin’s enemies forms the basis for the tale. With each flashback, we are treated to both a visual spectacular as well as brilliant martial arts. The fight between masters like Jet Li and Donnie Yen who plays the warrior Sky, is worth the whole movie. You see technique and you see skill, you see a duel and you see a dance, you see art and you see combat. The next flashback takes us to Nameless’ clash with Broken Sword played with understatement and poise by Tony Leung and Flying Snow played with finesse by Maggie Cheung. Here again multiple sequences see colour in all their lavishness - red, blue, white, the burnt gold of autumn leaves, the striking blue of a still lake. Daoming Chen as the King is regal and turns in a sublime performance.
The plot combines these elements with mystery and illusion - friendship and betrayal, love and fear, ideals and expediency.
Zhang takes no short cuts as he executes scene after scene with the care and generosity of an artist. It’s estimated more than 18,000 extras were used in the film ( many of them from the People’s Liberation Army). While the sound track does not sync as well as it could have, the cinematography more than makes up.
The movie has several verbal jousts that reveal the philosophy behind what on the surface may seem like calligraphy or war or swordsmanship. One of the highlights of the movie is the reveal on the different stages of swordsmanship. It is a parallel for leadership and for life.
Hero shows us what heroism is really about. That sometimes when you lose, you win.