Chinese theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Zhang Yimou|
|Produced by||Zhang Yimou|
|Music by||Tan Dun|
|Edited by||Angie Lam|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films (US) |
Beijing New Picture Film (China)
EDKO Film (Hong Kong)
|Box office||$177.4 million|
Hero is a 2002 Chinese wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou. Starring Jet Li as the nameless protagonist, the film is based on the story of Jing Ke's assassination attempt on the King of Qin in 227 BC.
Hero was first released in China on 24 October 2002. At that time, it was the most expensive project and one of highest-grossing motion pictures in China.Miramax Films bought the American market distribution rights, but delayed the release of the film for nearly two years. Quentin Tarantino eventually convinced Miramax to open the film in American theaters on 27 August 2004. The film received positive reviews from critics. It became the first Chinese-language movie to place No. 1 at the American box office (where it stayed for two consecutive weeks) and went on to earn $53.7 million.
In ancient China during the Warring States period, Nameless, a Qin prefect, arrives at the Qin capital city to meet the king of Qin, who had survived an attempt on his life by the assassins Long Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword. As a result, the king has implemented extreme security measures: no visitors allowed to approach the king within 100 paces. Nameless claims that he has slain the three assassins and he displays their weapons before the king, who allows the former to approach within ten paces and tell him his story.
Nameless recounts first killing Long Sky, before traveling to meet Flying Snow and Broken Sword, who had taken refuge at a calligraphy school in the Zhao state. He tells Sword that he is there to commission a calligraphy scroll with the character for "Sword" (?), secretly seeking to learn Sword's skill through his calligraphy. Nameless also learns that Snow and Sword, who are lovers, had gradually grown distant. Once the scroll is complete, Nameless reveals his identity and challenges Snow to a duel the next day, to avenge her secret lover Long Sky. Sword, in anger at Snow's betrayal to him, makes love to his pupil Moon, and is seen by Snow. In revenge, Snow kills Sword, followed by Moon when she attempted to seek revenge for her master. The next day, Nameless kills the emotionally unstable Snow before the Qin army, and claims her sword.
As the tale concludes, the king expresses disbelief and accuses Nameless of staging the duels with the assassins, as in the previous assassination attempt he had perceived Sword as an honourable man who would not stoop so low as to cheat on Snow. The king then suggests that what really happened was that the assassins volunteered their lives so that Nameless could gain the king's trust, which would allow Nameless to get close enough to the king to kill him. He then narrates his guess at what really happened.
In the king's hypothetical version of the story, Nameless had sought out Snow and Sword after staging the battle with Sky, telling them that he had acquired a special technique that would allow him to kill any target that is within ten paces. Nameless explains that he can use this technique to kill the king, but to get close enough he must present Snow's and Sword's weapons to the king. He further explains that he only needs to kill one of them in public to "prove" that he has killed both of them. Snow and Sword argue over who should be the one to die, which results in a short fight in which Snow is quicker and manages to injure Sword. Snow then proceeds to meet Nameless before the Qin army while Sword, still recovering from his wound, watches helplessly as Snow is defeated. Moon then gives Nameless her master's sword, telling him that the swords of Snow and Sword should remain together in death as they had in life.
Nameless admits that he does indeed possess the special technique the king alluded to. However, he states that the King had underestimated Sword, and tells the true story. Nameless says that the special technique, while deadly, can also be used to deal a seemingly-fatal blow that nonetheless misses all the victim's vital organs. He had used this technique on Sky, and now asked Snow and Sword to cooperate by faking a duel with him as well. He demonstrates the technique by showing that it is highly accurate as well as deadly. Snow agrees to the plan, but Sword refuses. Snow angrily accuses Sword of ruining the opportunity they had three years ago, when they had broken into the Qin palace yet Sword had refused to kill the king. She then attacks Sword, and manages to wound him with Nameless's help. The next day, Nameless "kills" Snow in front of the Qin army. Sword sends Nameless off to the Qin capital, writing the words Tianxia in the sand before leaving. Sword had not killed the king 3 years ago because he desired a unified, peaceful state, and only the king of Qin could achieve that vision.
The king, touched by the tale and by Sword's understanding of his dream to unify China, ceases to fear Nameless. He tosses his sword to Nameless and examines the scroll drawn by Sword. The king understands that it describes the ideal warrior, who, paradoxically, should have no desire to kill. When Nameless realizes the wisdom of these words, he abandons his mission and spares the king.
When Snow learns that Sword had convinced Nameless to forgo the assassination, she furiously attacks Sword and unintentionally kills him when he chooses not to defend himself so that she would understand his feelings for her. Overwhelmed with sorrow, Snow commits suicide. Urged by his court, the king reluctantly orders Nameless to be executed at the Qin palace for his assassination attempt. He understands that in order to unify the nation, he must enforce the law and use Nameless as an example. Nameless receives a hero's funeral and a closing text identifies the king as Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
Director Zhang Yimou collaborated with Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle to help realize his plan to divide the film visually into five sections, each dominated by a particular color. Zhang had initially wanted to use different cinematographers and shooting styles, but that proved impractical. Doyle compared their story to Rashomon, as it has an unreliable narrator and stories within stories. The film tells different version of the story of how an anonymous hero in ancient China overcomes three rivals. The stories are dominated by the colors red, blue, and white. The overall framing story is darker with shades of black, and flashbacks are shown in vibrant greens. The colors were chosen for their aesthetic reasons, and not symbolic ones, and the colors orange and pink were not considered as options, and Doyle was dismissive of universal theories of color such as those put forward by Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.
The lake sequences were filmed in the Jiuzhaigou cq region of China. The desert sequences were shot near the border with Kazakhstan.
The film was scored by Tan Dun, who also conducted the China Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus for the recording. A majority of the tracks feature Japanese taiko drum ensemble Kod?. Itzhak Perlman performs most of the violin solos, with additional solos by Tan Dun himself. The theme song, Hero (), composed by Zhang Yadong and Lin Xi, was sung by Faye Wong. It is unavailable in the American versions of the film DVD and soundtrack album.Wind & Sand () is a song inspired by the film and was sung by Tony Leung. The musical instrument seen and played during the fight in the weiqi courtyard scene is a guqin. The guqin music for that scene was performed by Liu Li.
Hero was first released in China on 24 October 2002. Miramax owned the American-market distribution rights, but delayed the release of the film a total of six times. Import DVDs of the film were sold online and Miramax demanded that the sites cease selling the DVD.
The movie was finally released in American theaters on 27 August 2004 after intervention by Disney executives, Government of China and Quentin Tarantino, who helped secure an English-subtitled release. Tarantino also offered to lend his name to promotional material for the film in order to attract box office attention to it; his name was attached to the credits as "Quentin Tarantino Presents". In addition, a sword held by Jet Li's character in the original promotional poster was replaced by weapon resembling a katana, a Japanese weapon, in the North American promotional poster, which was both anachronistic and culturally misplaced. The United States version of the DVD, with Mandarin, English, and French soundtracks, was released on 30 November 2004.
There has been some criticism of the film for its American-release translation of one of the central ideas in the film: Ti?nxià (??) which literally means "Under heaven", and is a phrase to mean "the World". For its release in Belgium, two years before the U.S. release, the subtitled translation was "all under heaven". The version shown in American cinemas was localized as the two-word phrase "our land" instead, which seems to denote just the nation of China rather than the whole world. Whether Zhang Yimou intended the film to also have meaning with regard to the world and world unity was at that time difficult to say. Zhang Yimou was asked about the change at a screening in Massachusetts and said it was a problem of translation: "If you ask me if 'Our land' is a good translation, I can't tell you. All translations are handicapped. Every word has different meanings in different cultures." In Cause: The Birth of Hero - a documentary on the making of Hero - Zhang mentions that he hopes the film will have some contemporary relevance, and that, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks (which took place just before the movie was filmed) the themes of universal brotherhood and "peace under heaven" may indeed be interpreted more globally, and taken to refer to peace in "the world." The phrase was later changed in television-release versions of the film.
Hero grossed $53.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $123.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $177.4 million. The film opened in China in October 2002, where it grossed $30 million. On 27 August 2004, after a long delay, Hero opened in 2,175 North American screens uncut and subtitled. It debuted at #1, grossing $18 million in its opening weekend. It is the third highest grossing foreign language film in North America.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 95% approval rating based on 205 reviews, with an average rating of 8.16/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "With death-defying action sequences and epic historic sweep, Hero offers everything a martial arts fan could ask for." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100 based on 42 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "A-" on scale of A to F.
Roger Ebert called it "beautiful and beguiling, a martial arts extravaganza defining the styles and lives of its fighters within Chinese tradition." He said the film "demonstrates how the martial arts genre transcends action and violence and moves into poetry, ballet and philosophy." Richard Corliss of Time described the film as being like "Rashomon with a Mandarin accent" and compared the film to House of Flying Daggers but said "Hero is the masterpiece", adding that "it employs unparalleled visual splendor to show why men must make war to secure the peace and how warriors may find their true destiny as lovers." Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune called it "swooningly beautiful, furious and thrilling" and "an action movie for the ages." Charles Taylor of Salon.com took an especially positive stance, deeming it "one of the most ravishing spectacles the movies have given us". Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote: "Filled with meticulous set pieces, including a showdown between Snow and Moon set among swirls of golden-yellow leaves, Hero is easy on the eyes, but it's too segmented to gather much momentum and too art-directed to convey much urgency." Dargis was impressed by the beauty of the actors and their compelling performances, "whose passions erupt as fiercely as any of the film's fights though often to more devastating effect." She concludes: "less than the sum of its attractive parts, it's nonetheless generally pleasurable." Derek Elley of Variety called it "A dazzlingly lensed, highly stylized meditation on heroism." Nevertheless, there were several film critics who felt the film had advocated autocracy and reacted with discomfort. J. Hoberman of The Village Voice deemed it to have a "cartoon ideology" and justification for ruthless leadership comparable to Triumph of the Will. Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post wrote an otherwise positive review but concluded: "The movie, spectacular as it is, in the end confronts what must be called the tyrant's creed, and declares itself in agreement with the tyrant."
The film also has been interpreted as a nuanced investigation into the relationship between culture on one hand, and political or military power on the other. In this approach, the film comments not only on China and its position in the world, but also on the ongoing erasures of languages and cultures under globalization.
Zhang Yimou himself maintained that he had absolutely no political points to make.
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Foreign Language Film||Hero||Nominated|||
|Golden Bauhinia Awards||Best Cinematography||Christopher Doyle||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Zhang Ziyi||Nominated|
|Berlin International Film Festival||Hero||Nominated|
|Alfred Bauer Prize||Zhang Yimou||Won|
|Academy Awards||Best Foreign Language Film||Hero||Nominated|||
|Hong Kong Film Awards||Best Film||Hero||Nominated|
|Best Director||Zhang Yimou||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Li Feng, Zhang Yimou and Wang Bin||Nominated|
|Best Actress||Maggie Cheung||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Zhang Ziyi||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||Christopher Doyle||Won|
|Best Film Editing||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction||Huo Tingxiao and Yi Zhenzhou||Won|
|Best Costume Make Up Design||Emi Wada||Won|
|Best Action Choreography||Tony Ching Siu-Tung||Won|
|Best Original Film Score||Tan Dun||Won|
|Best Original Film Song||"Hero" from Hero
by Zhang Yadong, Albert Leung and Faye Wong
|Best Sound Design||Won|
|Best Visual Effects||Won|
|Taurus World Stunt Awards||Best Action in a Foreign Film||Tony Ching Siu-Tung||Nominated|||
|Hundred Flowers Awards||Best Picture||Hero
(joint winner with Deng Xiaoping and Charging Out Amazon)
|Golden Rooster Awards||Best Director||Zhang Yimou||Won|
|British Independent Film Awards||Best Foreign Independent Film||Hero||Nominated|
|New York Film Critics Circle Awards||Best Cinematographer||Christopher Doyle||Won|
|National Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Director||Yimou Zhang (also for House of Flying Daggers)||Won|
|Best Cinematography||Christopher Doyle||Nominated|
finale can be read either as a triumph of unity over chaos or as a victory by militarism over pacifism.
its state-approved story of unification feels like a sellout, no matter how ravishing it is.