“Hero” Scene Analysis — 1:40:00-1:41:53

What is the purpose of the scene that you have chosen and how have language and film techniques been employed to achieve that purpose?

The chosen key scene from ZhangYiMou’s Hero, 1:40:00-1:41:53, follows the event of Nameless’ abandoned assassination of the Qin emperor and reaches the film’s emotional climax. In this excerpt, Nameless commits altruistic suicide under the arrows of Qin in exchange for the unity of China, and the emperor sacrificed the last person who shares his values, Nameless, to further establish his authority. Zhang utilizes symbolism, dialogue, and long shots to shed light on the theme of swordsmanship—selfless sacrifice for the greater good.

To begin with, the emperor stood in front of the symbol “sword” as he gave his execution command. This Chinese character, initially calligraphed by Broken Sword to develop powerful martial art techniques for killing, is representative of the emperor’s annihilation of neighboring countries.  Subsequently, when this calligraphy was given to the emperor, he aimed to merge all 18 ways of writing “sword” into one after uniting and bringing peace to all of China. The symbol of violence evolved to a symbol of unity along with the emperor and effectively embodies his motives throughout the movie. Furthermore, “Sword” was written in carmine red, symbolizing the inevitable bloodshed and sacrifice required to achieve peace and unity; although Broken Sword perished, his calligraphy, which also represents his aspirations, lived on to witness the rise of the Qin empire.

Additionally, the director deliberately incorporates no dialogue between the emperor and Nameless, supported by alternating shots, when the chancellors urged the emperor to commence the execution. The silence between Nameless and the Emperor contrasts the murmuring consultations in the background as they ‘spoke without being heard’: their eye contact is suffient for them to understand each others struggles and decisions. The shot cutting back-and-forth between them contributes to this interpretation, zooming in and ending at an eye-level-matching shot as if they were having a conversation. This mutual sympathy suggests a change in characterization—Nameless believes his surrender would exchange for world peace; therefore, he lends the emperor his trust, while the emperor, in tears, shifts from an emotionless, ruthless tyrant to a unifying leader under the influence of the three assassins.

Finally, Zhang utilizes extreme long shots to put additional emphasis on the motif of “the greater good”. In an establishing shot of the palace, the large landscape renders the supposedly ‘all powerful’ emperor insignificant and isolated, hinting at how powerless individuals like Nameless and the emperor can feel when trying to change the ‘big picture.’ Most longshots in this excerpt are also symmetrical in nature; this brings focus to the character at the center and evokes feelings of peace, solemnity, and unity, mirroring the Qin emperor’s ambitions.

Ultimately, the director employs symbolism, dialogue, and extreme long shots to demonstrate the significance of the characters’ sacrifices and changes in characterization, thereby unveiling the grand theme of the heavy, obligated, yet necessary sacrifices individuals must make for the interest of a larger society.