Zhang Yi Mou’s 2002 film Hero explores the relativity of truth. The movie starts by summoning Nameless to Emperor Qin’s palace. Nameless is a warrior who claims to have defeated the three assassins – Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow – that Qin had been preoccupied about; the story of Nameless fighting the assassins is told but the emperor suspects its validity. Hence, the film is divided into three major sections, each coded with a different color: Nameless’s anecdote, Qin’s interpretation, and the truth. The concluding scene from 1:39:20 to 1:42:20 is where Nameless, who attempts to murder Qin but aborts it to reinforce “peace under heaven”, is executed by Qin’s archers. In this denouement, the director employs cuts of close-up shots, imperative diction, and first-person perspective to convey the theme of destiny and the characters’ emotions to the audience.
To begin with, the scene utilizes cuts of close-up shots to contrast the emotions of ambivalence and certainty. As the soldiers draw their bows and the servants ask for execution, a close-up shot of Qin is alternated with that of Nameless. Nameless seems to accept his faith and stand confident in front of the archers whereas the emperor hesitates to order the execution. This dichotomy has the effect of building tension between the two characters, which allows the audience to gain insight into the complexity of the conflict. Moreover, these cuts foreshadow Nameless’s death because the blurred background in Nameless’s shot is a wall. Since Nameless has arrived at an impasse, he must submit to his fate and such emotion is effectively expressed through a close-up shot.
Furthermore, imperative diction is used in the film to demonstrate how Qin has no other choice but to command an execution. The servants are in indistinguishable black robes, symbolizing that they unanimously believe that Nameless must be executed. As Qin shows signs of hesitation, the servants then coerce the emperor to order the execution in a commanding tone: “Show no mercy… execute him!” As the servants outnumber Qin, the imperative phrases imply that they are likely to revolt if Qin forgives Nameless, which is an undesirable outcome. Thus, the audience gets a better understanding of why the emperor is in an indecisive state.
Additionally, a first-person perspective with respect to Nameless is employed to show his approaching fate and firmness. The symmetric shot shows a myriad of arrows falling upon Nameless. The first-person shot has the effect of emphasizing the number and speed of the arrows, eliciting fear from the audience. This scene shows what Nameless might have felt in his last moments and depicts how he was willing to withstand such horror for a greater cause. Thus, Nameless’s firm motivation, the fear he would have felt, and his destiny are shown with a first perspective shot,
To conclude, the utilization of cuts of close-up shots, imperative diction, and first-person perspective effectively portray the theme of destiny and the characters’ emotions at different points throughout the scene. Zhang Yi Mou tries to remind us how sacrifices must be made to uphold an important principle: peace for the majority and posterity.