Zhang Yimou’s 2002 film “Hero” is a fictional story about China’s Warring States period. The main protagonist, Nameless, attempts to assassinate Qin’s emperor by deceiving the emperor that he killed the emperor’s 3 most feared assassins. In a short scene from 12:20 to 15:39, Nameless tells the emperor how he defeated one of the 3 assassins, Sky. In the scene, Zhang used the techniques of camera angle, contrast, body language, and symbolism to depict the breathtaking tension between Nameless and Sky.
The movie first uses camera angles to inform the audience the intensity of the fight. During the mental battle, Zhang repeatedly uses extreme close ups of Nameless and Sky’s eyes. This shows how focused they were. In addition, throughout the fight, handheld camera was used so that the audience would feel as if they were part of the battle.
Moreover, the movie uses contrast to distinguish the physical and mental battle. The mental battle was displayed in black-and-white, whereas the physical battle had normal coloring. Many contrasts were used to highlight the action of the fight. The color of the setting sets a calm mood, which contrasts the bloodthirsty fight between Nameless and Sky; the music played by the old man is soothing, which contrasts the shouting of the characters and the sound caused by colliding swords; the slow rain drops contrasts the fast movement of the characters, which demonstrates how fast they are moving. Furthermore, the setting contains many games of Gomoku, a game originated from ancient China. This compares the mental battle to the board game, foreshadowing that the loss of Sky is a sacrifice for the ultimate checkmate.
In addition, the movie uses body language to portray the characteristics of the characters. During the fight, Sky makes a lot of fast and inaccurate jabs, which suggests that he is an impatient person. Additionally, both Sky and Nameless perform physics defying moves, such as hovering in the air, to emphasize their mastery in martial arts.
Lastly, the swords in the movie represents the dignity of a man. At 14:40 of the movie, Sky throws his sword towards Nameless. Swords are important to man, especially swordsman, so throwing the sword symbolizes that Sky gave up the battle. Although in the scene Sky did not forfeit the match, it foreshadows an information later revealed that Sky had purposely lost to Nameless. At the end of the fight, Nameless cuts Sky’s sword in half, symbolizing the defeat of Sky.
Through the effective use of camera angle, contrast, body language, and symbolism, Zhang was able to demonstrate intensity of the fight and provide important information to the audience.