China Insight Series: Chinese Movies 2-2

The Insight Series from 2014 continues into 2015! This series introduces excellent Chinese movies and encourages movie appreciation with focused themes.

Our series consists of four themes: Chinese History, Chinese Kung Fu, Chinese Cartoons, and China Today. For each theme, three movies will be introduced.

For the first theme, Chinese History, we will introduce: The Founding of A Republic, City of Life and Death, and Red Cliff.

For the second theme, Chinese Kung Fu, we will introduce: The Grandmaster, Hero, and Reign of Assassins.


Hero is a 2002 Kung Fu film directed by Zhang Yimou. Starring Jet Li as the nameless protagonist, the film is based on the story of Jing Ke's assassination attempt on the King of Qin in 227 BC.

In ancient China during the Warring States period, the Nameless took a mission to assassinate the King of Qin, who has survived an attempt on his life by the assassins Long Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword. 'Nameless' claims that he has slain the three assassins and told him a story about himself.

To win the King's trust, Nameless admits that he is a native of the Zhao state and that his family was killed by Qin soldiers; he also confesses that he defeated Sky without killing him and asked Snow and Sword to cooperate by faking a duel as well. Sword had waited for Nameless on his way to Qin after his false duel with Snow. He told Nameless that the only way to achieve peace was to unite the states under a common dynasty, namely that of Qin, which alone had the ability to do so, thus revealing why Sword gave up his earlier assassination attempt.

The king, affected by Nameless' tale and by Sword's understanding of his dream to unify China. He tosses his sword to Nameless and examines a scroll drawn by Sword. The King understands that it describes the ideal warrior, who, paradoxically, should have no desire to kill. When Nameless realizes the wisdom of these words, he abandons his mission and spares the King.

When Snow learns that Sword convinced Nameless to forgo the assassination, she furiously challenges Sword to a fight and unintentionally kills him when he chooses not to defend himself so that she would understand his feelings for her. Overwhelmed with sorrow, Snow commits suicide. Urged by his court, the king reluctantly orders Nameless to be executed at the Qin palace. He understands that in order to unify the world, he must enforce the law to execute Nameless as an example to the world. As the film ends, Nameless receives a hero's funeral and a closing text identifies the king as Qin Shi Huang.

The movie was first released in China in October 2002. At that time, it was the most expensive project and the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history.

Main Characters

  • Nameless: An unknown prefect of a small province, orphaned at an early age. Forged into a master swordsman over years of training, Nameless possesses the singular technique "Death at Ten Paces" allowing him to strike precisely within that distance. He is the primary conspirator to assassinate the king, but ultimately decides that China's unification and peace are more important than vengeance. 
  • Broken Sword: Broken Sword and Flying Snow are the only assassins to ever infiltrate the king's palace, killing hundreds of his personal guard and very nearly the king himself before halting at the last moment. Of all the assassins, Broken Sword is the only one whom Nameless considers his equal in swordsmanship.
  • Flying Snow: A skilled assassin, Flying Snow is Broken Sword's lover and his equal as a swordsman. She has vowed revenge upon the King for killing her father in battle. When Broken Sword convinces Nameless to abandon the assassination attempt on the king, Flying Snow kills him and later herself.
  • The King of Qin: An ambitious leader who desires to become the first Emperor of China. Following an assassination attempt, he withdraws into his palace, which he vacates of all but his most trusted advisors, and always wears his battle armor.
  • Long Sky: an accomplished spearman, Sky is the first to be "defeated" by Nameless, who takes Sky's broken spear as proof of his defeat to the king. He is the least-seen assassin in the film.
  • Moon: Broken Sword's loyal apprentice, skilled in using twin swords.

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