Minisode 7: Hero (2002) and Tianxia
Join us on this episode of East Asia for All as we discuss director Zhang Yimou’s 2002 film, Hero, starring Jet Li. A wuxia —or martial arts — film, Hero tells the story of an assassination attempt on the Qin Emperor. The assassin, called Nameless and played by actor and martial arts star Jet Li, is based on the true historical figure of Jing Ke, a vassal of the Kingdom of Yan.
A controversial figure during the Warring States period, the Qin Emperor is often called the first emperor of unified China and founded the Qin Dynasty in 220 BCE. Most famous for standardizing written script, coinage, and measurements, the Qin Emperor also built an elaborate tomb, terracotta army, and sections of the system of walls in North China known as the Great Wall. The Qin Emperor was known for his brutal tactics (at least according to his successors, the Han) and unifying a number of smaller kingdoms into ancient China's first empire.
Hero touches on these processes as the Qin moved from kingdom to empire, especially the benefits and drawbacks of a unified political society. The message of unity at all costs in Hero was met with some controversy, especially following the not so distant events of the Tian’anmen Square massacre of 1989 — in which student and worker protesters were tragically suppressed and killed by the government — and the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.
Tune in for our discussion of the Qin Emperor, universalizing ideologies of empire, and how to think about Hero beyond its beautiful scenes and masterful martial arts choreography.