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This is about the 2002 Chinese movie. For the 1996 movie released in America as Hero, see Accidental Hero. For other uses of "hero", see Hero.

Hero is a Wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou and released in 2002. Starring Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung and Donnie Yen, it is set in the troubled transitional period between the Warring Kingdoms and the Qin Dynasty, when the ruthlessly despotic King of Qin was in the process of annexing the other kingdoms of China and incorporating them wholesale into his own.

Jet Li plays Wu Ming ("Nameless"), ostensibly a minor official who claims to have vanquished three assassins out to kill the King (Broken Sword, Long Sky and Flying Snow) before he has a chance to declare himself Emperor. As he tells his story to the terminally paranoid King, things turn out not to be as they seem.

The movie generated political controversy, as the ending was interpreted by some as a justification of despotic rule, and as such an endorsement of the current Chinese authoritarian regime.


Contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Flying Snow and Moon.
  • Armor Is Useless: None of the assassins wear any armor. The shields carried by the royal guard are apparently made of styrofoam judging by their resistance to the swordstrokes of Flying Snow and Broken Sword. The King wears armor to protect himself from assassins, but is still aware that Broken Sword and Nameless are capable of killing him at will.
  • Arrow Cam
  • Arrow Catch: When an arrow breaks the rod he was using to practice his calligraphic skills in sand, Broken Sword just grabs the next arrow and resumes his writing.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: While the king is not as good as the four assassins, he gives Broken Sword more of a fight than his entire army. However, Nameless averts this: while he is the second-strongest swordsman in the film (only surpassed by Broken Sword), he is only a lowly prefect.
  • Badass: Everyone.
  • Battle Couple: Flying Snow and Broken Sword.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: Two assassins assault the imperial palace, cutting through a small army to do so. When they reach the emperor, the weaker of the two stays behind to hold off the whole army alone, while the other goes in to duel the emperor in single combat. "The Imperial Guard are not worthy of mention," indeed.
  • Broken Bird: Flying Snow. Moon becomes one.
  • Chop Sockey
  • Close-Call Haircut: Fading Moon severs a lock of Flying Snow's hair at the beginning of their battle in the red flashback.
  • Color Motif: The various retellings of the story come in color codes:
    • Black: Mystery
    • Red: Deceit
    • Blue: Romance
    • Green: Memory
    • White: Truth
  • Color Wash: the entire film, in obvious fashion.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: During the green flashback, Flying Snow and Broken Sword Storm The Castle of the King of Qin. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Royal Palace guards. Guess whether Snow and Sword emerge with a scratch on them. Go on, guess.
  • Cool Old Guy: The master of the Zhao calligraphy school. With arrows raining down on the school and students fleeing in panic, he announces that today they will learn the true spirit of their art, sits down at the front of the room, and calmly begins practicing calligraphy. He's so badass that the students hurry to return to their seats and follow his example.
  • The Emperor: The King of Qin.
  • The Empire: Qin, pronounced "Chin," a.k.a. the future government of Chin-a.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting
  • Evil Overlord: The King of Qin. This is perfectly historical too: in real life he eventually became Qin Shihuangdi a.k.a. the First Emperor, possibly the most tyrannical ruler China would see for the next twenty-two centuries. So much that Mao (yes, THAT Mao) explicitly compared himself to him.
  • Gambit Pileup: The five different variations on the assassins' story versus what the King has learned.
  • Grey and Gray Morality

  "In any war there are heroes on both sides..."

  • Heel Face Turn: Flying Snow starts as a petty, two-timing biatch, but becomes far more noble and emotionally broken in following versions of the story. The Emperor serves as the villain of the film for most of the movie, but becomes sympathetic by the end.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Nameless and Broken Sword.
  • Highly Visible Assassin: Broken Sword and Flying Snow are so powerful that they simply carve though the King's entire royal guard and walk right into his throne room.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • The King. Even the most idealistic interpretation of the movie cannot drag him entirely free of the gravitational pull of the Moral Event Horizon that he crossed in real life. Nor does it especially try too.
    • Nameless. The actual assassin that Nameless is based on merely drew a poisoned dagger and chased the king around the throne room until the king was able to draw his sword and stab him.
  • Hobbes Was Right
  • Honor Before Reason: Just about every character except the King. Except at the end, when even he is willing to die and actual gives the nameless assassin his sword, despite claiming earlier that he wasn't so noble as to die for idealism, because he discovered Broken Sword understood what he was trying to do.
  • How We Got Here: The King and the Nameless hero have differing explanations.
  • I Know You Know I Know: The King deduces Nameless's plot after listening to his story.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: As any wuxia film, the abilities of the warriors are supernatural. At various points, they deflect storms of arrows without getting nicked, chop arrows in half in midair, and swordfight on water.
  • Interface Spoiler: The subtitles sort of lessen the visual shock of the fact that Nameless spared the King since his whole sentence appears subbed all at once, while ignoring the pause that he put into his sentence that sets up the big reveal.
  • Lie Detector: The Emperor's candles.
  • Scry vs. Scry: Nameless and Sky's duel plays out entirely in their minds, save for the final blow.
  • Kill'Em All: Every named character except for Qin, Long Sky and Fading Moon is dead by the end.
  • Knife Outline: The imperial archers shoot so many arrows at a character that the ones that don't hit form a "shadow" of arrows on the wall behind him.
  • Magical Realism: The whole film.
  • Manly Tears: Shed by the King for Broken-Sword and Nameless.
  • More Hero Than Thou
  • Obi-Wan Moment: Nameless.
  • One-Man Army: Nameless and Flying Snow have the ability to block and deflect storms of arrows fired from a massive army utilizing nothing but a sword and some very long sleeves, respectively. Also, three years ago, Broken Sword and Flying Snow cut through hundreds of palace guards as if they were cardboard all on their own in an effort to kill the King.
  • Properly Paranoid: The King states that everyone is out to get him. And he's right.
  • Rain of Arrows: Twice.
  • Rashomon Plot: The whole movie. Different versions of the story are displayed in the form of different-colored flashbacks.
  • The Reveal: Midway through the film, we learn that Nameless was lying about his entire story, and that he's in league with the assassins. The King then narrates what he think happened, and then Nameless proceeds to describe what actually happened.
  • Rousseau Was Right - There are no truly "evil" characters in this film; all of them are trying to make the world a peaceful and happy place, the only way they know how.
  • Rule of Cool: Good grief.
  • Scenery Porn: The movie's just plain gorgeous.
    • Of note is a sword fight taking place on (yes, on) a lake that is perfectly still and gives reflections like mirrors. This is a real lake in China, but its surface is only that placid about three hours a day. Combine this with the set-ups required for Wire Fu and they could get maybe two shots done during those three hours.
    • There's also the fight between Broken Sword and the King, where the King realizes Broken Sword is lurking in the banners in the court, and cuts them down, and they all fall to the ground in the most majestic way possible.
  • Shown Their Work: When the Emperor learns that there are 19 different ways to write the word "Sword", he comments that this is bothersome and he should do something about it. Which he did.
  • Single Tear: The King of Qin sheds one tear when he realizes the only man who understands him is his enemy.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Disputed. The film can be seen as a treatise on having faith in fundamental human decency, which is quite idealistic. It can also be seen as urging submission to government authority because peace is worth more than liberty, which is quite cynical.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: Stopping entire volleys of arrows, walking on water, etc...
  • Tear Jerker:
    • Aside of Nameless's death, there's Broken Sword's heartbreaking death in Flying Snow's arms, as well as Flying Snow killing herself and following him.
    • The entirety of the King's idea of what happened.
  • Storming the Castle: See 'Conservation of Ninjitsu'
  • Thanatos Gambit: The assassins plan to fake their own deaths to allow the Nameless man to get a few steps closer to the King.
  • Together in Death Broken Sword and Flying Snow.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: The three assassins; especially in the Red flashback.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Broken Sword's argument is that a peaceful, united China is worth the bloodshed and conquest that brings it together.
  • Warrior Poet: Broken Sword, with calligraphy. Long Sky, with go.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Calligraphy, which is linked to both bravery and swordsmanship. At the calligraphy school, the head teacher insists that the students make a last stand practicing calligraphy as arrows rain down on them. Broken Sword's swordsmanship is directly linked to his skill at calligraphy. During the battle at the school, Broken Sword casually practices calligraphy amidst the downpour of arrows, and later majestically paints a banner.
  • Whole-Episode Flashback
  • Wire Fu: Plenty of it.
  • World of Badass: Just about everyone in the film is a supreme badass.
  • Worthy Opponent: The King of Qin recognizes Nameless as this when his assassination attempt fails.
  • You Killed My Father: Flying Snow's Disappeared Dad was a Zhao general and fell in battle against the King. Hence why Snow is so embittered.
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