Hero a Journey

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‘We only need heroes in times of war or catastrophe’. Discuss with reference to a film or text of your choice.

The film ‘Hero’ (2002), directed by Yimou Zhang, is set during the ‘Warring States Period’ of Chinese Antiquity, prior to the unification of these states by the ‘first’ Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang , the historic model for the film’s King of Qin . In a climate of terror and ruthless violence, minorities defend their right to exist as independent people, with separate linguistic and cultural traditions. The characters of Nameless, Snow and Broken Sword emerge as vengeful, dispossessed assassins, who enact heroic deeds in response to the tyranny they have suffered and the oppression they face. Their ‘heroism’ is a weapon they use to pursue their goal, to kill the Emperor, yet the film explores a more complex notion of heroism than this, and ultimately argues that the characters must sacrifice their personal goals for the greater good. The heroic ‘ideal’ that emerges here, is one of physical prowess informed by wisdom, insight and understanding, so that the ideal warrior relinquishes his sword and only desires peace. This view of heroism transcends periods of war, and may in fact create societies that are free of war and catastrophe.

Although the King admits that he is a feared tyrant, violently oppressing those in his path, the film depicts him as a rational man, who aspires to unite the warring states into a peaceful, unified whole. For example, we see the King as a shrewd judge of character, capable of both winning wars and ruling effectively afterwards. His version of events, retold in the ‘blue’ narrative scenes is ironically the most flattering to his enemies, Skye and Broken Sword. From his own experience, he judges the assassins to be self-disciplined and noble, and unlikely to have acted on impulse and passion, as implied by Nameless in his first version of events. This version, shot in hues of red, evokes the rage, passion and falsehoods...
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