Hero (2002, Chinese, starring Jet Li, directed by Zhang Yimou)
The Short Version
The most drama you’ll ever see in a calligraphy school.
The Plot in a Nutshell
Hero is a wuxia movie (meaning that it belongs to a genre of Chinese fiction that involves the adventures of essentially superhuman martial artists) centering around a 227 BC assassination attempt on the King of Qin.
You guys, this movie is my everything right now. It’s all the drama. It’s all the emotion. It’s all the color coordination. It’s all the action. All the betrayal. All the heartbreak. All the stunning landscapes (and oh my are they something). And, obviously most importantly, it’s all the calligraphy.
Oh, you didn’t know you needed more action calligraphy scenes in your life? How wrong you are, my friend, how sadly misinformed and unaware. I’m embarrassed for you, really.
Hero is filled with enormous, deeply soul-satisfying drama—very much in the Shakespearean sense. It’s one of those movies that leaves you laying on the couch for a few minutes after it’s over, just wanting to roll around in the emotion a little longer. It’s also visually stunning. I’ve spent a few minutes trying to form a sentence that would demonstrate precisely how beautiful it is, but then I realized I could just show you. Please proceed to the video below.
Holding an 84% rating at Metacritic and a 95% certified fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, Hero was released in the United States (almost two years after its Chinese release) to almost universal acclaim. Roger Ebert, after declaring the film “beautiful” and “beguiling,” wrote that it “demonstrates how the martial arts genre transcends action and violence and moves into poetry, ballet and philosophy.” It’s ballet that comes most strongly to my mind while watching it (perhaps not least because of the sparse dialogue).
Hero’s US release was not free of controversy, though. Some critics at the time believed that the film carried a pro-authoritarian message, a belief that was strengthened by the Chinese government’s support of both the director (he was tapped to make video for the 2008 Beijing Olympics) and the film. Wikipedia has a helpful rundown of the controversy.
The director, Zhang Yimou, has strenuously denied the claims, and indeed his own relationship with the censorship of the Chinese government has been very rocky at times (a 1994 film was shut down by the Beijing government, and he was briefly forbidden to attend foreign film festivals.) I do not personally agree that the film carries a pro-authoritarian message—otherwise I would not be recommending it—but it appears to be a matter that reasonable minds can differ on. So I give you the information to do what you will with.
This is a great opportunity to break out the pretty dress you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Hero is an astonishingly elegant movie, and you don’t want to look shabby next to it. It’s also another chance to break out the red lip, which is pretty exciting.
Try a Ginger Beer Fizz—Tsingtao Pure Draft, ginger beer, and slices of ginger. I like the addition of ginger here, giving the drink an intriguing twist.
Let’s go for an easy stir-fry here: they come together in minutes and they’re delicious. Food and Wine has what looks like a great roundup of recipes.