Hero: A Nameless Sacrifice

Hero is a 2002 film by Yimou Zhang, which was released in the US in 2004. With incredible cinematography, this film transcended the notion of a traditional martial arts film and tackled topics that sparked discussion in the fields of government, art and philosophy.

It follows the story of an orphaned assassin called “Nameless” and how he came near to the Emperor of the Qin dynasty. Starting with a narrative from Nameless, we hear of the Emperor’s many killings among his enemies, or anyone who was unlucky enough to be caught in between them.

The role of suffering is paramount, as it was both given and received throughout the movie especially in the dynamic of the couple “Broken Sword” and “Flying Snow.” Both of these characters suffered the loss of those close to them, yet they each chose to express their deep grief in different ways. While Flying Snow was initially vengeful, seeking the death of the man responsible for her loss, Broken Sword was more empathetic. His response was similar to that of Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha, wherein patience and compassion are the ways to truth. Despite all that he had to endure, he believed that he did not want anyone else to go through what he had to go through and the only way for that to have a chance of happening was to forgive the man who had wronged him.

Despite all that he had to endure, he believed that he did not want anyone else to go through what he had to go through and the only way for that to have a chance of happening was to forgive the man who had wronged him.

We see flashbacks of the other assassins: Long Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow, as Nameless recounts beating them in battle in front of the emperor. The emperor is enchanted by his story, but soon he realizes that these are lies. Nameless’ real mission was to get close enough to the emperor to kill him. After an earnest conversation with the emperor wherein he tells Nameless that the ideal warrior has no desire to kill, Nameless discovers that the king’s true wish is to unify China under one rule. Nameless backs down from his mission and spares the king’s life. The king then publicly executes Nameless as an example to all the people while still giving him a hero’s burial, and becomes the first emperor of China.

While violence was a necessary element in the film, as it was shown as a means to end of true and lasting peace. In choosing to become the nonviolent man by sacrificing his own life, Nameless became a hero and opened the possibilities of a truly peaceful world with meaning. He became a witness of the possibilities of the new empire, which could have only happened under the hand of the king.

As the Dalai Lama says, we are interconnected with each other. Nameless’ understanding of how one plays a role in the stopping of violence by beginning with the self is important. Peace needs to be within us before we can share it.

True heroism then is shown here as a complex concept wherein one must be willing to accept when one is wrong, go beyond simply from what one initially feels and to be able to seek the good of others over one’s own convenience or personal vengeance.  A true reflection of solidarity arises from the Nameless’ sacrifice, wherein he used his freedom with understanding and forgiveness in order to safeguard the future of those who will never know his name.

A true reflection of solidarity arises from the Nameless’ sacrifice, wherein he used his freedom with understanding and forgiveness in order to safeguard the future of those who will never know his name.

Personally, I believe that the movie was very well written and beautifully shot. The narrative was complex and provided a deep insight into the struggle of freedom and the desire for peace that enveloped the story line. We see how peace is bought for the highest price—the blood, sweat and tears of those who truly seek for change in an unjust world—and that one cannot be half-hearted when fighting for what one believes in. We must be willing to live for it, fight for it, and die for it.

Quina Baterna first interned for the WYA Asia Pacific office in Manila and is currently part of the International Internship Program at the WYA Headquarters in New York City.

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