Written and directed by Zhang Yimou, Hero is an artistic, powerful portrayal of love, loyalty, jealousy and intrigue set during China’s Kingdom Wars 2,000 years ago. Martial arts superstar Jet Li heads the all-Asian cast as an assassin named Nameless, whose purpose is to kill the King of the Qin dynasty. Hero is presented exclusively in various dialects of Chinese with English subtitles, which makes getting to know the characters and understanding the plot very difficult. This epic tale, while barbaric in its focus on the six warring kingdoms of China, uses intricate and breathtaking architecture, textures, tapestries, natural elements and an outstanding musical score, which all contribute to a civility and beauty in the midst of the violence. Hero is a magnificent step back in time and an intriguing look into a culture that most Westerners know little about.
Hero is not your typical martial-arts film. While there is a gratuitous amount of violence with people impaled by swords, only two instances show any blood. There is a sword fight between several male combatants in a water garden, which is artistically breathtaking. A sexual encounter where a man ravages a woman concludes with the scornful vengeance of his mistress. In the Eastern tradition of storytelling, this film does not progress linearly. The details of the story are randomly presented, like a collage to be unified and experienced in its entirety.