Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One for All!

Man, I am terrible at this. Transitions are hard!

More on that later. For now: that Hero post I keep lying about writing!

The central questions that Hero revolves around are ultimately that of revenge, but also of compassion. Do you kill the emperor because it's what your heart cries out for? What you have spent the last years of your life honing yourself to do? Or do you spare his life, because he is the only one who can unify China?

These are not easy questions.

And, the thing is, Hero doesn't necessarily answer them. At the end of the film, Nameless (Jet Li) decides against killing the emperor, because sparing his life will mean that a vision of a unified state can finally be realized. There is so little standing in Nameless' way: the death of his comrades, his own personal convictions, they do not matter because, at the end, China needs to become one.

What is interesting is the fact that the protagonist (sort of) is never named, and that he wears traditional "assassin" colors. He could, literally, be anyone. The nameless protagonist has been played out almost too much in cinema, but the task of deciding the fate of a nation should not fall on one person's shoulders. Jet Li's character has very real, tangible emotions in the way that wuxia heroes have. Which is to say, he does not feel love, or sorrow. He feels all-consuming love/lust, and the deepest sorrow you can imagine. These are not the emotions of you or I. These are the emotions of an operatic character. You empathize with the broad brush strokes of those characters because, perhaps, you too have felt the bottomless pit of woe, or the all-consuming torch of love.

But could you kill one person for revenge, when it means that the fate of a country would be doomed?

Nameless spares the Emperor's life because of compassion. Compassion not for the emperor, but for the people of one-day China. This is a little awkward, considering the fact that the movie was funded by the Chinese government. You have to sacrifice your personal happiness in order for the whole to succeed. Sorry, China. Just...sweep those human rights under the patriotic rug.

I don't care if this didn't happen in history. I know how shocking that is, considering how much I love the idea of the Warring States Period in China. But the thing is, history can be told through the metaphors of movies like Hero. And it should. It should never be taken as actual fact, mind you, but perhaps it would be easier for students of history to better understand how enormous it was for China to finally be unified. And perhaps it would be easier for students to understand just how ritualized the emperor was. It's hard to understand, from an American perspective. The President has a Secret Service, but the Emperor of China? He has a small army of servants in the Forbidden Palace. Hero also makes clear what expectations Chinese cultural norms emphasize, or at least what the government hopes that Chinese citizenry will agree to deal with.

Yeah. I like this movie a lot. It's gorgeous, it has excellent music, and you get to see Jet Li and other great wuxia doing their thing on a grand scale. All in all, not bad.

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