Directed by Zhang Yimou
Hero (Chinese: 英雄) is a 2002 Chinese wuxia film, directed by Zhang Yimou with music by Tan Dun. Starring Jet Li as the nameless protagonist, the movie is loosely based on the legendary Jing Ke.
A group of assassins: Flying Snow (飞雪) (Maggie Cheung), Broken Sword (残剑) (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), and Long Sky (长空) (Donnie Yen), have sworn to kill the King of Qin (秦王) (Chen Daoming), and Nameless (无名) (Jet Li) comes to the royal capital to claim the reward offered for their defeat. The movie tells the story of his conversation with the King of Qin, and through a series of flashbacks depicts the journey he took to save the country from collapse. Zhang Ziyi stars as Broken Sword's servant Moon (如月).
Hero was first released in China on October 24, 2002. At that time, it was both the most expensive and the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history. Miramax Films owned the American market distribution rights, but delayed the release of the film for nearly two years. It was finally presented by Quentin Tarantino to American theaters on August 27, 2004.
Nameless recalls approaching Sky at a Weiqi parlor (known in the West as the game of Go) where, in front of witnesses, he dueled and slew the assassin. After retrieving Sky's spear, Nameless traveled to a small calligraphy school in the enemy state of Zhao. In this school Flying Snow and Broken Sword were living as lovers, as Nameless suspected. After commissioning a scroll from Broken Sword for the word "Sword," Nameless informed both Sword and Snow of Sky's death and of Sky's dying wish for Snow, his illicit mistress, to avenge him. In retaliation, the heartbroken Sword had sex with his servant, Moon (Zhang Ziyi), right before Snow's eyes, to make her suffer as he had. In a fit of silent rage, Snow killed Sword, which prompted Moon to try to avenge her Master by killing Snow. Snow at first refused to fight Moon; however, after narrowly losing several hairs to Moon's blades, she decided that killing Moon would be exactly what Moon wanted. She allowed Moon to accidentally impale herself on her blade. Before Moon died, however, she insightfully remarked that Snow was very "stupid" for losing her temper and killing Sword. The next day, her focus disrupted by the deaths of her close ones, Snow dueled and was killed by Nameless. Nameless' stories are illustrated by scenes dominated by Red costuming and Yellow scenery.
As the tale concludes, the King expresses disbelief at Nameless's story based on his knowledge of Broken Sword's and Flying Snow's honorable character, which he knows from having faced them three years before. He accuses Nameless of having staged the duel with Sky, who surrendered his life to give Nameless the opportunity to enter the palace. The King theorizes that Nameless traveled to the calligraphy school and asked Sword and Snow to be publicly defeated by him, surrendering their weapons and allowing Nameless to further gain the King's trust in order to assassinate him. Snow and Sword spent a final night together before meeting Nameless, when Snow wounded Sword (to prevent him from stopping her) and offered herself to Nameless as the sacrifice. Nameless killed her before a group of Qin soldiers acting as witnesses and, while preparing Sky and Snow's weapons for the palace visit, was approached by Moon who offered Sword's weapon to him, declaring that the two lovers' swords, like their souls, should never be apart. Concluding his tale, the King theorizes that the brave and loyal assassins would only have invested their lives in an unstoppable assassination attempt that would require the assassin to be within ten paces. The King's suppositions are illustrated using cinematography dominated by Blue.
Nameless admits to being a man of the Kingdom of Zhao whose family was killed by the Qin army and describes his unstoppable technique, the ability to strike precisely within a distance of ten paces. Nameless confesses that he collaborated with Sky and used this technique in the duel at the Go parlor and proposed it to Snow and Sword at the calligraphy school. During their discussions, however, Sword expressed reservations about assassinating the Emperor, much to the chagrin of Snow, who harbors the deepest desire for vengeance. Snow agreed to fake her death at Nameless's hands, and wounded Sword to prevent him from interfering. The next day in front of Qin soldiers, Nameless dueled Snow, with Nameless using his technique to inflict a wound that bypassed her vital organs while appearing to kill her. As Nameless set off for the Emperor's palace, Broken Sword approached him and told the story of how he met Snow, the daughter of a Zhao general killed by Qin forces, and how they fought their way to the King of Qin's palace in an assassination attempt three years before. Sword explains, however, that despite being a man of Zhao, he came to realize that killing the King would plunge fragmented China into further war and shatter all hopes for the universal peace that would follow the King of Qin's final unification of China and his establishment of a new Chinese Empire. When Nameless refuses to put aside his plan, Sword writes "All Under Heaven" (translated into "Our Land" in the international version) in the sand and asks him to reconsider. These scenes use white costuming – green for Sword's recollections – and cinematography dominated by pale colours.
The King of Qin, deeply moved by the tale and Sword's understanding of his true intentions, throws his sword to Nameless and turns his back on the assassin. Unafraid of death, he examines Broken Sword's scroll hanging behind his throne and realizes that the scroll explains the ideal warrior, who paradoxically should have no desire to kill. As Nameless realizes the wisdom of these words, he leaves the King alive, and marches from the palace and down the steps the courtyard. Snow, after witnessing the yellow flag raised by her returning servant, concludes correctly that Sword had convinced Nameless to forego the assassination. She denounces Sword as a traitor and attacks him. Sword allows her to slay him in hopes that she will understand his love for her, as well as his hopes for true peace for all. Shocked by Sword's non-violence, Snow loses all her hatred for Sword and is consumed by grief at his death. Wanting to join her lover in death, she impales herself on the sword she had used to kill Sword. At the palace, Nameless exits into the courtyard and stands at the locked perimeter doors, awaiting his fate while the King, to set an example and uphold his laws, reluctantly orders Nameless's execution, striking him down in a hail of arrows. As Nameless receives a hero's burial, the closing text declares that the King of Qin united the Middle Kingdom under one rule, unifying the Chinese language, its weights and measures system, completing the Great Wall of China and ushering in the Qin Dynasty of a unified China. The King of Qin became Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China.