The 2004 movie “Hero,” directed by Zhang Yimou, tells the tale of an unnamed hero’s journey using four widely different perspectives. The audience is led through the repeated retelling of the story of the hero who defeats three assassins in order to get into the king’s palace. In a scene from 1:35:35 to 1:37:39, Falling Snow, one of the assassins, stabs a fellow assassin and her lover, Broken Sword, through the chest. In this brief scene, the film utilizes various types of diegetic sound, along with an appeal to pathos through close-up camera shots and repeated phrases of dialogue to provide a final conclusion to the theme throughout the film: actions taken because of one’s selfishness can never be justified.
Firstly, the film uses diegetic sound from both objects and characters in the scene to emphasize an important moment in the scene and to convey the emotions of the character. This still portrays the knife Broken Sword threw down when Falling Snow stabbed him during their fight. In the scene, the knife can be heard landing in the sand for a brief moment before falling onto its side. Falling Snow’s sword going into Broken Sword can also be faintly heard as this happens. The sound of the knife falling signifies the end of the two assassins’ fight in which Falling Snow wins by killing Broken Sword. This is the instant when Falling Snow abruptly realizes her mistake and begins to regret her selfish actions. Moreover, Falling Snow screams loudly at the end of this scene shortly after Broken Sword takes his last breath. This example of diegetic sound acts as a universally understood portrayal of pain and sorrow. It is an overt display of Falling Snow’s inability to come to terms with killing Broken Sword.
Furthermore, the movie evokes feelings of sorrow through the use of close-up camera shots on Falling Snow’s face. Falling Snow is the only character present in this shot, which emphasizes her somber and heartbroken state after killing Broken Sword. Her single falling tear framed in the shot further reinforces Falling Snow’s negative emotional state to the audience and brings them to feel the same way. Dialogue also plays a role in creating the sad atmosphere of this shot. Falling Snow begins to cry as Broken Sword tells her his real thoughts about meeting her family and expresses his regret for not doing so sooner. This further appeals to the audience’s emotions since they are made to acknowledge Broken Sword’s true love for Falling Snow, even as he dies by his lover’s sword. The lack of non-diegetic sound, such as music, as he speaks impacts the audience because they become engrossed in what he is saying instead of other noises that could act as a distraction in an important scene such as this.
Lastly, repeated phrases of dialogue spoken by Falling Snow give insight into her true thoughts and feelings as she is coming to terms with her actions. In this still, Falling Snow is seen caressing Broken Sword’s face after he collapses onto the ground. Falling Snow asks him, “Why didn’t you defend yourself? Why didn’t you?” These phrases show her regret and inability to reconcile for stabbing Broken Sword. She fought with him due to the short-lived anger she had at the moment, but after seeing the real effects of her actions, she cannot justify her wrongdoing to herself. In addition, her questions are ironic in a way because she was the one who decided to stab her lover in the first place, yet she is also questioning why he did not adequately defend himself against her sword. It seems as though she does not want to accept her own involvement in Broken Sword’s death in order to rationalize her actions in any way she can.
Through the use of diegetic sound, an appeal to pathos, as well as close-up camera shots and repeated dialogue, the scene where Falling Snow stabs Broken Sword and immediately regrets her actions demonstrates the irreversible and unjustifiable consequences of one’s actions when acting out of selfish motivation. The film accurately shows the negative effects of those actions and offers another course of action to take instead: self-sacrifice for the greater good.