I rented "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and honestly, I turned it off confused and with a headache after trying to read subtitles and watch the action at the same time. So when I went to the theater to see "Hero" for extra credit in history, I didn’t expect to enjoy anything other than my cola and candy. When the movie started, I was, of course, thrilled to see subtitles, but I soon realized that this film, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Jet Li, was much more than airborne fighting and guys with ponytails. It took my breath away with beautiful scenery, amazingly choreographed martial arts and a complex, emotional story.
Set 2000 years ago in the strict and fearful age of the Qin Dynasty under the oppressive rule of Emperor Chin Shi Huang Di, the movie depicts the evolution of an assassination scheme against the emperor, a legend that has survived in Chinese myths. This authoritative and demanding ruler conquered many areas around China, splitting families and destroying settlements, which created hatred toward him. Many, however, failed to understand his real aspiration: to unite all of China as one powerful country.
When Nameless, the greatest warrior of all time and an assassin in cahoots with three others, weaves an intricate tale of lies detailing his murder of the three assassins who want to kill the emperor, he comes within a hundred feet of the emperor. This is his goal, since he eventually plans to murder the emperor. But the emperor breaks down each of his tales and he is forced to tell the "truth" each time, producing several masterfully choreographed battle and martial arts scenes.
Women fight as well, and there is a handful of sword tricks, moral decisions, malicious politicians, and some bitter lovers in the mix. One might also realize that with each story there is a symbolic color change in the landscape and costumes.
Finally, Nameless is presented with a decision when he is so close to his ultimate goal of whether to avenge his village and fellow assassins, or to spare the emperor for the good of China. He is the only one with power enough to unite them all. Thus, Nameless has the courage and character to walk away from a murder he’d spent his whole life planning.
China remembers Nameless as the man who died an assassin and public enemy but was buried a hero, and in fact the film ends with a long burial procession led and paid for by the emperor himself.
A spectacular film, "Hero" is clearly more than just a learning experience. It is a dramatic journey through the amazing saga of one man’s life that remains dear to China’s heart, and perfectly showcases the impact of a single decision. I left the theater clutching my snacks as I thought about the moral depth of this film, and how badly I wished I were from China.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.