Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” (2002) takes place in ancient China when the Qin Empire conquer the six kingdoms. Nameless, an assassin determined to kill the king for peace, does not attack him and instead let the king live.
This ending scene from 1:39:19 to 1:42:31 is about the king deciding whether to save Nameless or establish authority and strive for a greater good by killing him but mainly shows why Nameless’s act was heroic and why the king had no choice but to kill him.
Nameless, after sparing the king’s life, walks away towards the gate and, without any emotion, stares at the palace and the soldiers who are waiting for the king’s order to kill him. Here, the use of close-up shots allows the audience to carefully look at Nameless’s emotionless but determined face. Nameless’s facial expression illustrates that he has already made up his mind of sacrificing himself for strengthening the authority of the king and letting him unify China, leading to peace in the rest of the world. And when the king ordered the soldiers to kill Nameless, he did not deflect the arrows. This scene, therefore, shows how nameless is accepting that he was wrong and acknowledging that to seek the good of all China, he must sacrifice himself rather than seeking his own personal revenge. In other words, he was able to gain full control of himself, understanding that him maintaining peace first, will stop violence and let that peace be spread to future generations, being a true hero, treating death and life in an emotionless manner.
Here, in this scene, the king is hesitating whether to kill Nameless or not. Zhang Yimou uses a close-up shot again, showing the king’s hesitant face. The king is in the conflict between saving Nameless for not killing him or rather killing him publicly, to establish authority and facilitate his unification of China. The advisers at the side are sort of ordering the king to kill Nameless, bringing up tension, along with the thousands of soldiers waiting for the king’s order. The scene switches from the close-up shot and the wide shot, where the king is standing in front of the calligraphy ‘sword’ with the advisers beside him. The calligraphy symbolizes not only that a warrior should lay down his sword, but that violence and sacrifices are just a means to strive for ultimate peace. And with the color black, which gives a majestic view of the emperor, shows that the king is determined to make some sacrifices over lasting peace.
Lastly, right before Nameless was killed, camera angles show what each character is feeling. Nameless, shot at a high angle with an extremely wide shot, is barely seen, showing how vulnerable and weak he is. And with Nameless’s perspective view, thesoldiers, king, and advisors are shot at a low angle, which makes them look big and powerful.