"Exploring Patriotism in China"
What You Need To Know:
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.
(B, C, PP, FR, VV, S, N, M) Light moral worldview with redemptive elements that rewards self-sacrifice and consideration for others over revenge, a strong patriotic message about uniting a country for the people’s good, and a false religious scene in which characters glide across and bounce off water that too closely resembles Jesus walking on water; no foul language; martial arts sequences with bloodless action violence, two men stabbed with some blood shown, people shot with arrows but with no blood or gore shown, and woman fatally stabs herself; fornication implied with sounds and people seen under sheet; rear male nudity in a non-sexual context; no alcohol or smoking; and, subjects plot to assassinate king, character lies to king in order to subdue him, and violence and revenge rebuked.
GENRE: Historical Epic/Martial Arts
HERO is a great accomplishment from China, released there in 2002. It is a story about reuniting a country, first by war but then by peace. Action star Jet Li is a nameless fighter who presents himself to the king Qin after having slain Qin’s three most deadly and elusive enemies. Qin lets no one approach him, but as the nameless fighter explains how he defeated the assassins – one he engages in a swordfight, the others he cunningly turns against each other – he is allowed to move to within 10 paces of the ruler. It is at this point when the fighter’s motivations are slowly unpeeled and the ramifications for the country’s people are realized. The movie that begins as an extremely gorgeous and refined action/war vehicle morphs into a reflection on perspective, peace and morality.
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.