Hero (2002 film)

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Hero poster.jpg
Chinese theatrical release poster
Traditional 英雄
Simplified 英雄
Mandarin Yīngxióng
Cantonese Jing1 Hung4
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Produced by Zhang Yimou
Written by Feng Li
Bin Wang
Zhang Yimou
Starring Jet Li
Tony Leung
Maggie Cheung
Chen Daoming
Zhang Ziyi
Donnie Yen
Music by Tan Dun
Cinematography Christopher Doyle
Edited by Angie Lam
Sil-Metropole Organisation
Elite Group Enterprises
Zhang Yimou Studio
Beijing New Picture Film
Distributed by Miramax Films (US)
Beijing New Picture Film (China)
EDKO Film (Hong Kong)
Release dates
  • 24 October 2002 (2002-10-24) (China)
  • 21 December 2002 (2002-12-21) (Hong Kong)
Running time
99 minutes
Country China
Hong Kong
Language Mandarin
Budget $31 million[1]
Box office $177.4 million[1]

Hero is a 2002 wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou. Starring Jet Li as the nameless protagonist, the film is based on the story of Jing Ke's assassination attempt on the King of Qin in 227 BC.

Hero was first released in China on 24 October 2002. At that time, it was the most expensive project[2] and the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history.[citation needed] 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 27 August 2004.


In ancient China during the Warring States period, the nameless prefect of a small jurisdiction arrives at the Qin state's capital city to meet the king of Qin, who has survived an attempt on his life by the assassins Long Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword. Because of the assassination attempt, no visitors are to approach the king within 100 paces. 'Nameless' claims that he has slain the three assassins and he displays their weapons before the king, who allows the former to sit closer to him and tell him his story.

Nameless recounts killing Long Sky at a weiqi parlor; later to meet Flying Snow and Broken Sword at a calligraphy school in the Zhao state, where he pitted them against each other until Snow killed Sword and was herself slain by Nameless. As the tale concludes, the king expresses disbelief and accuses Nameless of staging the duels with the assassins, who surrendered their lives to allow him to gain the king's trust and take the king's life.

Nameless admits that he is a native of the Zhao state and that his family was killed by Qin soldiers; he also confesses that he defeated Sky without killing him and asked Snow and Sword to cooperate by faking a duel as well. Sword had waited for Nameless on his way to Qin after his false duel with Snow. He told Nameless that the only way to achieve peace was to unite the states under a common dynasty, namely that of Qin, which alone had the ability to do so, thus revealing why Sword gave up his earlier assassination attempt.

The king, affected by the tale and by Sword's understanding of his dream to unify China, ceases to fear Nameless. He tosses his sword to Nameless and examines a scroll drawn by Sword. The king understands that it describes the ideal warrior, who, paradoxically, should have no desire to kill. When Nameless realizes the wisdom of these words, he abandons his mission and spares the king.

When Snow learns that Sword convinced Nameless to forgo the assassination, she furiously challenges Sword to a fight and unintentionally kills him when he chooses not to defend himself so that she would understand his feelings for her. Overwhelmed with sorrow, Snow commits suicide. Urged by his court, the king reluctantly orders Nameless to be executed at the Qin palace. He understands that in order to unify the world, he must enforce the law to execute Nameless as an example to the world. As the film ends, Nameless receives a hero's funeral and a closing text identifies the king as Qin Shi Huang.


  • Jet Li as Nameless (simplified Chinese: 无名; traditional Chinese: 無名; pinyin: Wúmíng): An unknown prefect of a small province, orphaned at an early age. Forged into a master swordsman over years of training, Nameless possesses the singular technique "Death at Ten Paces" allowing him to strike precisely within that distance. He is the primary conspirator to assassinate the king, but ultimately decides that China's unification and peace are more important than vengeance. Hero also saw Jet Li's first appearance in a film produced by mainland China, after his debut in Shaolin Temple.
  • Tony Leung as Broken Sword (simplified Chinese: 残剑; traditional Chinese: 殘劍; pinyin: Cánjiàn): Broken Sword and Flying Snow are the only assassins to ever infiltrate the king's palace, killing hundreds of his personal guard and very nearly the king himself before halting at the last moment. Of all the assassins, Broken Sword is the only one whom Nameless considers his equal in swordsmanship.
  • Maggie Cheung as Flying Snow (simplified Chinese: 飞雪; traditional Chinese: 飛雪; pinyin: Fēixuě): A skilled assassin, Flying Snow is Broken Sword's lover and his equal as a swordsman. She has vowed revenge upon the King for killing her father in battle. When Broken Sword convinces Nameless to abandon the assassination attempt on the king, Flying Snow kills him and later herself.
  • Chen Daoming as the King of Qin (Chinese: 秦王; pinyin: Qín Wáng): An ambitious leader who desires to become the first Emperor of China. Following an assassination attempt, he withdraws into his palace, which he vacates of all but his most trusted advisors, and always wears his battle armor. In speaking, he uses an ancient way of saying "I" (Chinese: 寡人; pinyin: guǎ rén), which literally means "lonely person", but consists of the two Chinese characters "寡" which means less, or lacking, and "人" which means man, or person, in ancient Chinese. This could potentially have the meaning of "a man who lacks morals" (Chinese: 寡德之人; pinyin: guǎ dé zhī rén), and used the same way as the Western "Royal 'We'" or Pluralis majestatis.
  • Donnie Yen as Long Sky (simplified Chinese: 长空; traditional Chinese: 長空; pinyin: Chángkōng): an accomplished spearman, Sky is the first to be "defeated" by Nameless, who takes Sky's broken spear as proof of his defeat to the king. He is the least-seen assassin in the film.
  • Zhang Ziyi as Moon (Chinese: 如月; pinyin: Rúyuè): Broken Sword's loyal apprentice, skilled in using twin swords.

Box office[edit]

When Hero opened in Hong Kong in December 2002, it grossed a massive HK $15,471,348 in its first week. Its final gross of HK $26,648,345 made it one of the top films in Hong Kong that year. On 27 August 2004, after a long delay, Hero opened in 2,031 North American screens uncut and subtitled. It debuted at #1, grossing US $18,004,319 ($8,864 per screen) in its opening weekend. The total was the second highest opening weekend ever for a foreign language film; only The Passion of the Christ has opened to a better reception.[3] Its US $53,710,019 North American box office gross makes it the fourth highest-grossing foreign language film and 15th highest-grossing martial arts film in North American box office history.[4] The total worldwide box office gross was US $177,394,432.

Critical response[edit]

The film received extremely favorable reviews, scoring 95% at Rotten Tomatoes[5] and 84 at Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim".[6] Roger Ebert called it "beautiful and beguiling, a martial arts extravaganza defining the styles and lives of its fighters within Chinese tradition."[2] Richard Corliss of Time described it as "the masterpiece", adding that "it employs unparalleled visual splendor to show why men must make war to secure the peace and how warriors may find their true destiny as lovers."[7] Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune called it "swooningly beautiful, furious and thrilling" and "an action movie for the ages."[8] Charles Taylor of Salon.com took an especially positive stance, deeming it "one of the most ravishing spectacles the movies have given us".[9] Nevertheless, there were several film critics[who?] who felt the film had advocated autocracy and reacted with discomfort. The Village Voice's reviewer deemed it to have a "cartoon ideology" and justification for ruthless leadership comparable to Triumph of the Will.[10]

In 2014, Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors to list their top action films.[11] Hero was listed at 77th place on this list.[12]

Political meaning and criticism[edit]

This film has faced criticism, as well as praise from abroad as a perceived pro-totalitarian and pro-Chinese reunification subtext. Critics also cited as evidence the approval that had been given to the film by the government of the People's Republic of China. These critics[who?] argued that the ulterior meaning of the film was triumph of security and stability over liberty, analogous to the "Asian values" concept that gained brief popularity in the 1990s.[citation needed]

The film's director, Zhang Yimou, purportedly withdrew from the 1999 Cannes Film Festival to protest similar criticism.[13] Zhang Yimou himself had maintained that he had absolutely no political points to make.[14]

Translation of "Tianxia"[edit]

There has been some criticism of the film for its American-release translation of one of the central ideas in the film: Tiānxià () which literally means "all (everything and everyone) under heaven", and is a phrase to mean "the World". In fact, for its release in Belgium, some two years before the U.S. release, the subtitled translation was indeed "all under heaven". However, the version shown in American cinemas was localized as the two-word phrase "our land" instead, which seems to denote just the nation of China rather than the whole world. Whether Zhang Yimou intended the film to also have meaning with regard to the world and world unity was at that time difficult to say. Zhang Yimou was asked about the change at a screening in Massachusetts and said it was a problem of translation: "If you ask me if 'Our land' is a good translation, I can't tell you. All translations are handicapped. Every word has different meanings in different cultures."[15] However, in Cause: The Birth of Hero – a documentary on the making of Hero – Zhang mentions that he hopes the film will have some contemporary relevance, and that, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks (which took place just before the movie was filmed) the themes of universal brotherhood and "peace under heaven" may indeed be interpreted more globally, and taken to refer to peace in "the world."[16] The phrase was later changed in television-release versions of the film.

Miramax release[edit]

Miramax, the film studio, owned the American-market distribution rights, but delayed the release of the film, a record[citation needed] total of six times. Import DVDs of the film were sold online and Miramax demanded that the sites cease selling the DVD.[17] The movie was finally released in American theaters on 27 August 2004 after intervention by Disney executives and Quentin Tarantino, who helped secure an uncut English-subtitled release. He also offered to lend his name to promotional material for the film in order to attract box office attention to it; his name was attached to the credits as "Quentin Tarantino Presents".[18] In addition, a sword held by Jet Li's character in the original promotional poster was replaced by weapon resembling a katana, a Japanese weapon, in the North American promotional poster, which was both anachronistic and culturally misplaced. The United States version of the DVD, with Mandarin, English, and French soundtracks, was released on 30 November 2004.

Awards and recognition[edit]


The film was scored by Tan Dun. The theme song, Hero (英雄), composed by Zhang Yadong and Lin Xi, was sung by Faye Wong. It is unavailable in the American versions of the film DVD and soundtrack album.[19][20] Wind & Sand (風沙) is a song inspired by the film and was sung by Tony Leung. It is available only in Leung's album of the same name.[citation needed] The musical instrument seen and played during the fight in the weiqi courtyard scene is a guqin. The guqin music for that scene was performed by Liu Li.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Hero at BoxOfficeMojo.com". 
  2. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "Hero". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  3. ^ "Foreign Language – Box Office History". Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  4. ^ "Action – Martial Arts". BoxOfficeMojo.com. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  5. ^ "Hero at Rotten Tomatoes". 
  6. ^ "Hero (2004) at Metacritic". 
  7. ^ Corliss, Richard (15 August 2004). "Men, Women and Fighting". Time. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  8. ^ Wilmington, Michael. "Hero". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  9. ^ ""Hero" – Salon.com". 
  10. ^ J. Hoberman. "Man With No Name Tells a Story of Heroics, Color Coordination". Village Voice. 
  11. ^ "The 100 best action movies". Time Out. Retrieved November 7, 2014. 
  12. ^ "The 100 best action movies: 80-71". Time Out. Retrieved November 7, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Zhang Yimou withdraws from Cannes". Wikisource. 
  14. ^ MacNab, Geoffrey (17 December 2004). "I'm not interested in politics". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  15. ^ Anderson, Jason (2004-09-30). "Getting lost in translation". Eye Weekly. Archived from the original on 2006-05-21. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  16. ^ ""Cause: The Birth Of Hero" Documentary". 
  17. ^ "Slideshow: Studio Warns Kung Fu Site". Wired. 15 December 2003. 
  18. ^ Smith, Jim (2005). Tarantino. London: Virgin Books. p. 202. ISBN 0-7535-1071-5. 
  19. ^ "Hero soundtrack CD track list at YesAsia.com". 
  20. ^ "FilmTracks.com: Hero". 

External links[edit]