Exploring Patriotism in China
Release Date: October 02, 1992
Starring: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai,
Maggie Cheung, and Daoming
Genre: Historical Epic/Martial Arts
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Rating: PG-13 for stylized martial
arts violence and a scene of
Runtime: 95 minutes
Distributor: Miramax Films/Buena Vista
(Walt Disney Company)
Director: Yimou Zhang
Kong, Quentin Tarantino, and
Producer: Bill Kong, Quentin Tarantino,
and Yimou Zhang EXECUTIVE
PRODUCERS: Shoufang Dou and
Writer: Feng Li, Bin Wang, and Yimou
Zhang BASED ON THE NOVEL BY:
Address Comments To:Bob and Harvey Weinstein
375 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013
Phone: (323) 822-4100 and (212) 941-3800
Fax: (212) 941-3846
GENRE: Historical Epic/Martial Arts
Flashbacks are used to tell most of the story, and some events are told two or three times from different angles. Although this effect is not totally original, it is executed seamlessly and to great effect in HERO. The audience is not sure of what actually happened until the movie’s end, and this suspense makes them able to sympathize with more characters than they would normally. Several points of view are processed and understood, whereas in most movies, the audience automatically accepts the singular perspective of the protagonist or hero.
This multiplicity of viewpoints is part of the movie’s focus. One character devotes his life to avenging the king that murdered his family, but once he looks outside himself and sees others’ perspectives, he realizes that although the king is corrupt and has done some terrible things, his plan for China is a healthy and important one. The once vengeful character had forgotten that his own perspective and solution are not the only valid ones. Revenge is not only rebuked here, but the difficult task of forging understanding and compassion is heralded.
When given a choice to make, the nameless fighter chooses peace over the sword, and as a result, China is united to the benefit of its people. Publicly he is despised, but those who know his story understand that he is a hero. The movie explores subjectivity but not subjective morality. The moral code that the fighter lives by is a fixed one, although he learns much about it during the movie. It raises the notion of how the nameless fighter could be a turncoat to some people but also their hero, and how both descriptions would be valid and accurate.
Technically, the movie is stunning. Some of the camerawork actually invests beauty in the landscape rather than flattening it and watering it down. The use of color in sets and costumes is intricately detailed, as each flashback has a different visual tone. This gives the story more definition and helps the audience differentiate between multiple versions of a story. Additionally, the sound is noticeably well done.
HERO contains a few fight scenes, but they are an integral part of the movie’s experience and not simply titillation. They are also excellently choreographed. What’s most impressive, however, is how they give way to some very interesting observations about morality and patriotism. For a movie set in historic China, there is little false religious content (although there is some), and there is no foul language. Due to the subtitles and potentially confusing storytelling method, the movie won’t be for everyone, but it’s a nice bit of counter programming to brain dead summer fare.
Partially, the movie is about looking outside oneself and trying to understand others’ perspectives. In doing so, one character foregoes a lifelong desire for revenge and acts to unite his fractured country. He has learned that his own perspective and solution are not the only valid ones. The movie advocates peace over vengeful violence and a healthy, patriotic outlook, even through political strife. The camerawork is stunning, and the few fight scenes are sophisticated but still very exciting. They are excellently choreographed. For a movie about historic China, there is little false religious content, and there is no foul language.