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Hero (Ying xiong) - Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Yimou Zhang

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

One man will challenge an empire.

The time... two thousand years ago.

The place... the violent dawn of the Qin dynasty

The story... the soon-to-be First Emperor of China (Daoming Chen) is on the brink of conquering a war-torn land. Three opponents are determined to assassinate him and one loyal subject stands in their way.

At the height of China's Warring States period, the country was divided into seven kingdoms: Qin, Zhao, Han, Wei, Yan, Chu and Qi. For years, the separate kingdoms fought ruthlessly for supremacy. As a result, the populace endured decades of death and suffering.

The Kingdom of Qin was the most determined of all. The Qin King was obsessed with conquering all of China and becoming her first Emperor. He had long been the target of assassins throughout the other six states. Of all the would-be killers, none inspired as much fear as the three legendary assassins, Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen).

To anyone who defeated the three assassins, the King of Qin promised great power, mountains of gold and a private audience with the King himself. But defeating the killers is a near impossible task. For ten years no one came close to claiming the prize. So when the enigmatic county sheriff, Nameless (Jet Li), came to the palace bearing the legendary weapons of the slain assassins, the King was impatient to hear his story. Sitting in the palace, only ten paces from the King, Nameless told his extraordinary tale:

For ten years, Nameless studied the way of the sword and resolved to challenge the three assassins. Using the secrets of swordsmanship; Nameless defeated the mighty Sky in a furious showdown. Following this initial victory, he destroyed the famed duo of Flying Snow and Broken Sword. This time using a weapon far more devastating than his sword - their extraordinary love for each other.

The King hung on every detail of this curious story. But then something most unexpected happened - the King has a different story to tell of how Nameless really came to sit there, face to face with the King. It appears that everything was not so simple. In the centre of the intrigue sits Nameless - a solitary ranger and the King of Qin - the ruler of the Kingdom, with only ten steps between them. Within those ten steps holds an earth-shattering tale of love, honour and duty, a story that moves beyond the reaches of history. A story about what it means to be a hero.

Theatrical propaganda posters

Hero (Ying xiong) image

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film martial arts China Qin emperor action adventure assassin

Persons of interest

  • Jet Li .... Nameless
  • Tony Leung Chiu Wai .... Broken Sword
  • Maggie Cheung .... Flying Snow
  • Ziyi Zhang .... Moon
  • Daoming Chen .... King of Qin
  • Donnie Yen .... Sky
  • Feng Li .... Screenwriter
  • Bin Wang .... Screenwriter
  • Yimou Zhang .... Screenwriter
  • Yimou Zhang .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Despite being a visual symphony akin to Beethoven or Mozart, Hero is more of a martial arts anthology than a cohesive history of life in proto-China. The plot - based on the classic flashback structure - drags on and on, with far too much time spent comparing lies with truths with lies. This is the new millennium and we want speed more than anything else (Did you download this on a 56 k modem or are you using broadband? See what I mean?). Hero offers no speed at all. There's a lot of velocity but that's an entirely different kettle of fish.

The action is all you could expect and want from a hard-core Chinese martial arts film - flying, posing, hitting, honouring, meditating - but there isn't enough drama to tie the action sequences together. Action without drama is another way of saying pornography. Hero might be a good Chinese film but it's not so hot in the West.

Security censorship classification

M (Medium level violence)

Surveillance time

99 minutes (1:39 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 4 November 2004
DVD retail: 16 March 2005

Cinema surveillance images

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Production notes

Historical background

Hero is based on events in China during the Third Century BCE.

From 475 - 221 BC, the land was divided into seven major kingdoms: Qin, Zhao, Han Wei, Yan, Chu and Qi. Named the "Warring States" period because of the power struggle between the kingdoms, this was a time of endless brutal wars and much hardship and suffering.

War was the predominant way of life. Technological advances enabled the casting of individual weapons, which in turn allowed the arming of foot soldiers. This precipitated a new order of warfare. In previous eras, aristocrats on chariots had fought battles. A General-led infantry replaced this, with peasants pressed into the front lines and commanders directing the strategy. Many treatises on warfare were written during these turbulent times, including the celebrated Art of war by Sun Tzu. This in-depth study of warfare remains a bible of the battlefield to this day.

Dominated by power struggles, the Warring States was nevertheless a period of great classical thought. This cultural flowering is known as the "One Hundred Schools" period. Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism developed during the Warring States, and some of the most memorable poetry and prose in China were written at this time. The incessant warfare also contributed to other social changes. It sparked reforms in the economy and the development of iron greatly increased agriculture, precipitating a population explosion.

During the Warring States period, a feudal system became firmly established. The Warring States saw the feudal lord of each state vying for hegemony. Each of them believed that they were destined to unite "All under Heaven", a phrase taken to mean civilisation as they knew it. The King of Qin was most ruthless and ambitious of all. Historically chronicled as a brutal tyrant, the King was determined to conquer and control all of the states. Throughout history, there have been stories of how assassins from all over China plotted to kill the King of Qin. Hero is one of these stories.

The seven states would stop at nothing in their goal to create the first Chinese Empire. They placed huge garrisons and enormous walls along their frontiers, military advisors schemed to defeat foreign armies and alliances between states were formed only to be broken. In the middle of the fray were the wandering warriors. They were skilled fighters who would lend their skills to various states against their enemies. In Hero, the fate of China rests in the hands of three such legendary warriors.

The look

The exacting standards that were set for the story and the action sequences are no less stringent when it comes to the look of Hero. Three versions of the story, told from different perspectives each has its own colour scheme - red, white and blue. "The aesthetics of this film are inextricably bound up with the plot", says director Zhang Yimou. "The idea of using colours to tell the story came about quite early in the process of conceptualising the film. The look of the set, the costumes and so on was developed in concert with the script itself. I had an image in my head for a long time and then worked through the details of how to realise it through talking with the other people working on the film."

In search of perfection, Zhang travelled hundreds of miles to find the ideal backdrop for each scene. The 300-strong crew has moved from Dunhuang in the north-west of Gansu province to Jiuzhaikou in northern Sichuan, before erecting spectacular sets in Hengdian TV and Movie City just three hours outside the historic city of Hangzhou. The company even dropped everything to head to an ancient oak grove in Inner Mongolia to shoot a fight scene between Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi at the height of the autumn foliage. "I had a guy out there specifically to keep an eye on the leaves," says Zhang Yimou. "He made videotapes of their progress as they turned from green to yellow." As soon as the leaves turned golden, the crew rushed north. "We used three or four cameras simultaneously at different angles." explains Zhang "And the leaves had to be perfectly yellow. We even implemented a leaf classification system. Special class leaves could be blown in the actors' faces, first-class in front of them, second class behind them and third-class were scattered on the ground." A mat gathered leaves as they fell so that the crew could collect, clean and classify them, then gently send them drifting back down again.

Such obsessiveness is matched by Academy Award-winning costume designer, Emi Wada who cites director Zhang Yimou as one of her heroes. For the costumes in Hero, Wada tried no less than thirty colours, hand dying each individual sample. However, after her colours were approved, Wada ran into an unforeseen problem. "We couldn't make some colours with the dye and water in Beijing," she sighs, "therefore we brought the dye from England and Japan and used mineral water to dye some of the fabric... we ended up with some thousand metres of cloth." So meticulous was Wada's control of the design that the red costumes were created using fifty-four shades of colour. Using different textures to characterise the individuals in the story. Wada sought inspiration from ancient costumes in China, Korea and Japan. The silhouette of the costume is an ancient style. "But as this is an action movie," Wada explains, "it also has to be as light as ballet costumes."

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