As conspiracies to assassinate the tyrannical king Qin unfolds, Zhang Yimou’s film Hero follows the story of a couple, Flying Snow and Broken Snow. They are under a dilemma where one of them must sacrifice for the success of the assassination scheme. Hence, Snow stabs Sword to forcibly stop his sacrifice and leaves to confront death instead. In this scene, Zhang uses a careful selection of dialogue, character action, and mise-en-scene to emphasize the power of love and affection, which even enables sacrificial acts for one another.
The film utilizes dialogue that appeals to pathos to demonstrate the couple’s intense love. With Snow’s decision to sacrifice herself, Sword cries, “If you died, how could I live?”, emphasizing the inseparable bond that exists in their relationship. This rhetorical question vividly delivers Sword’s desperation to stop her death, arousing sympathy within the audience for their tragedy. Subsequently, Snow simply replies, “I want you to live.” The succinctness of the line represents her firm determination to save Sword’s life at the expense of her own. However, this is ironic as Sword can no longer live without her, which dramatizes the tragedy, reinforcing sacrificial love. Therefore, this dialogue highlights how a deep relationship gives individuals the strength to face challenges even in peril of their life.
Additionally, the actions of Flying Snow are carefully arranged to demonstrate her genuine emotions towards Broken Sword. After the stab, Snow immediately ties a blue cloth around his wound with shaking hands. First, the red color of blood, signifying betrayal, is obscured by the blue color of the fabric, which symbolizes their loyal relationship. This juxtaposition emphasizes that the true intention of her stab lies not in harming but protecting. Second, the detail of Snow’s shaking hands contrasts with her determined voice in “I want you to live,” revealing her inner distress in facing this life-or-death situation. Therefore, Snow’s shaking hands covering the wound shows that intense love can enable individuals to face their deepest fears and stand up for the well-being of their loved ones.
Furthermore, Zhang carefully arranges the mise-en-scene to foreshadow the tragedy in the couple’s relationship. A long shot is taken with Snow’s departure, in which the scene is dominated by nature’s vast openness, while Snow only has an infinitesimal existence in the foreground. This contrast physically illustrates the circumstances’ hopelessness, where her fate is destined to an irreversible tragic end. This is further emphasized by the placement of a white horse on the top of the frame. The Chinese culture often associates white with death, as decorations such as white chrysanthemums are funeral traditions. Simultaneously, a white horse is an archetype that symbolizes a hero’s brave characteristics. Hence, Snow’s approach towards the white horse foreshadows her brave sacrifice leading to the tragic death of her life and relationship.
In conclusion, using dialogue, character action, and visual mise-en-scene, Zhang facilitates the audience to completely immerse in the tragic love between Snow and Sword and emphasizes the theme that intense love enables sacrifice.