Hero, by Albert W. Vogt III

There was a time in the early part of this century when we here in the United States began getting a number of bona fide Chinese martial arts films.  Among the first was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).  Not only was it well received by the American viewing public, but it also garnered a great deal of attention at the 73rd Academy Awards, being nominated for ten prizes and winning four of them.  This whetted the appetite for such films.  And then we got Hero (2002).  As I recall, it was billed as being similar to its forerunner.  I can be a sucker for these movies, so I probably would have seen it regardless of the previous flick.  I was annoyed with it back then, and my most recent viewing did nothing to change this opinion.

The reason for my annoyance with Hero is because of the way in which the story is told.  It also means that I have to veer from my tried and true formula.  The main thrust of the plot is a warrior going by Nameless (Jet Li) being feted for his conquests.  Because of his feats, he is brought into the presence of the King of Qin (Chen Daoming).  This is a big deal because the king has survived many assassination attempts, and because of this he does not allow anyone to get within 100 paces of him.  The three principle potential killers are Long Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung).  Because Nameless has defeated all three, he has been given the privilege of being in the presence of the king.  There is an added reason for this audience, and it is to regale royalty as to how Nameless vanquished these foes.  Conveniently, Nameless fought each one individually, so it cuts back and forth between these bouts and the king and Nameless in the court alone together.  Each time he recounts a victory, Nameless is rewarded with more land and money, and is allowed to move closer to the king.  It is important to note that these tales are told from Nameless’ perspective, but we will get to why that is crucial in a moment.  In the course of this exchange, we learn that the king does not believe some of what Nameless says, particularly as it relates to Broken Sword.  Broken Sword and Flying Snow had been lovers, and Nameless finds them at a calligraphy school.  According to Nameless, he had driven a wedge between Broken Sword and Flying Snow by challenging the latter to a duel.  When Broken Sword discovers this, he seeks solace in the arms of his pupil, Moon (Zhang Ziyi).  Moon flaunts this to Flying Snow, who then kills Broken Sword in vengeance.  Then Moon seeks redress with Flying Snow, and Moon is killed in their duel.  This all makes for an emotionally unbalanced and physically drained Flying Moon to be defeated by Nameless before the rest of the Qin army.  What a sordid affair, no?  The king does not believe this story because he had previously fought Broken Sword and found him to be an honorable man.  He then unspools his own version of these events, and we are forced to relive the whole thing once more.  At least it is in different color?  I am not making a snide comment with that question.  It is a statement of fact.  Each time it is retold, there is a different color scheme.  At any rate, in the king’s version, Nameless had convinced all three assassins to lay down their lives so that he could get close to their ruler and complete the work that they could not finish.  The king further theorizes that Nameless possesses a special martial arts technique that allows him to incapacitate people, making them appear dead.  After sitting through the king’s version, Nameless reveals the whole truth.  He is, indeed, in league with the other assassins.  However, in the previous assault on the palace undertaken by Broken Sword and Flying Snow, Broken Sword had come to realize that the king is the only chance China has at peace and unity.  It is for this reason that Broken Sword did not complete his mission.  Broken Sword now sees Nameless as the only one who can finish what he and Flying Snow started, but this time to convince the king to bring together the country.  Flying Snow is not keen on this plan, and accidentally kills Broken Sword out of rage.  She immediately regrets it and takes her own life.  Again, so messy!  Back at court, things are at their most tense between Nameless and the king.  Still, the king is stirred by Broken Sword’s act, and turns to contemplate the large scroll Broken Sword had made for the king stating this intention.  It is the opening for which Nameless had been waiting.  Yet, when he is about to deliver the killing blow, Nameless instead put the pommel of his sword into the monarch’s back before departing.  With a heavy heart, the king orders the execution of Nameless on the spot, and the would-be assassin accepts it as a sacrifice for the good of China.  I know I should not laugh at death, but so many arrows are fired at Nameless that when his body is removed from the wall behind him, it leaves a comical outline of his body.  Anyway, I guess I did stick to my formula in the end.

The movie is called Hero because Nameless sacrifices himself for the good of others.  Sacrificial love is a familiar theme in films, and well covered in reviews here on The Legionnaire.  So often, films turn to this theme without acknowledging the ultimate act of this nature as Jesus did for all humanity, not just China.  I get it, though.  Not every movie needs to be intentional in showing the Biblical inspiration for this, and I like to hope that they were at least inspired by Our Lord and Savior.  One has to be careful, though, in taking on such a burden, in doing it, that it, not putting it into a motion picture. The film presents what Nameless and the others do as being for “the greater good.”  This is a noble concept, but a difficult one to understand outside of God because only He can see the entire picture and how it all works together.  It is a blessing when God gives a person insight into His grander plan and allows someone to do something that moves nations.  It is an extra blessing when this turns out beneficial for the many.  More often, these attempts are the result of misguided aims.  The film doubles down here, though, saying that the pain of one is nothing compared to the suffering of many.  This flies in the face of how God sees us.  Each of us are the most important person that has ever been created to Him, which might seem impossible, but such is Faith.  The point is that your suffering is important, and that while it is good to see it in a larger context, all we really need is to turn to God.  If he asks us to do something more with it, then all we can do is obey, hopefully.

While I did not care for Hero, I did appreciate one last sentiment it gave that would seem to counterbalance somewhat the notion that the collective is more important than the individual.  Broken Sword later tells us that the goal of every warrior is to lay down the sword.  Even if I was irked by the repetitive nature of the movie, I can at least say Amen to that thought.

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