Some have tried to crack its colour coding, while others to epilogue about what it means to be a hero. The rest of the audience might have been a public offended by the dangerous pro-tyrannical image that both director Zhang Yimou and cinematograph Christopher Doyle draw together in HERO (2002). This film traces third century B.C. ancient China under King Qin (Damoing Chen) before the country’s unification into an empire. Opening up with a soldier from Zhao called Nameless (Jet Li), the plot begins in an oxymoron as much as it then twists, following three additional and different flashback paths. One story spoken and coloured in contradictions relying on truth and lies.
HERO treats the eyes with words painted in colours. The use of speech remains subtle yet rare, as the film rather speaks a visual poetry. Because in episodes of déjà-vu the taste that remains is no other than a black and white tape whose lines we decide to shade bright.
The words of HERO’S storyteller, Nameless, breathing for revenge in his mission to assassinate the King Qin. The soldier tells his story, how he defeated the King’s enemies Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk), Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Moon (Zhang Ziyi); the screen turns then from black to red, green, blue and beige. Pauses in his discourse bring the viewer back to the red thread conversation between the soldier and the king, and makes him soon realise that the King Qin rethinks the souvenirs of Nameless three times in a row. Confusion robs time and facts, leaving the mind hungry on hows and whys.
Words in HERO fly like a sword, swift and clean, marking the flesh without blood to shed. Calligraphy teaches, settling down an emotional fragility that wanders between temporality and sky, water and ground. When sand becomes its paper, all enlightens, and within an ephemeral instant, the constant war practice that is thinking takes shape. To get to know the sun, one cannot avoid encountering with the moon; to see the light, one has to dance with darkness.
How to give up on life. HERO splendidly guides the viewer in the lethal move, how not to block the sword and, as the green plot exposes, how to return to a state of simplicity. Tracing the infinite circle of thinking, rewinding a life with its malleable souvenirs, its visually arresting fighting scenes dance a contradiction essential to human nature:
The existentialist melody that HERO gifts the seventh art with confronts the viewer with a nobility of spirit, a value dear to martial arts, pulling the strings of awareness and self-accomplishment.
director ZHANG YIMOU
director of photography CHRISTOPHER DOYLE
cast JET LI, TONY LEUNG CHIU-WAI, MAGGIE CHEUNG, ZHANG ZIYI and DONNIE YEN
words by CINDY FOURNIER
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