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Hero: The Mindset of Warriors
Many fight sequences in movies provide audiences entertainment. Created through quick editing and a variety of shots, the combination forms intense and satisfying results. However, among several films, very few actually place audience members into the mindset of what fighters experience during their matches with their opponents. One film that succeeds in combining quick pace sequences and the realism of how fighters think and act is Hero. In Hero directed by Yimou Zhang, the fights that a nameless warrior must face, test and shape what decisions he makes later in the film. In the fight sequence against the nameless warrior (Jet Li) and Sky (Donnie Yen) creative filmmaking is used to express another dimension of feeling for the audience to experience. Through filmmaking, audience members can become immersed in the mindset of how heroes fight.
In real life, in order for there to be fights, confrontation has to exist between two or more people. When this occurs a fight can take place and have purpose. When the nameless warrior faces off against the legendary warrior, Sky, audiences are immediately pulled into the confrontation that grips the two characters. Starting with a long shot of the nameless warrior, the mise en scene of the temple that surrounds him suggests his affiliation with the king, and the power that the warrior wields. When the shot is reversed to Sky, the scene becomes a medium shot showing the facial reaction of Sky thinking about what the nameless warrior is saying, especially when the nameless warrior says, “You are on the kings most wanted list. I am placing you under arrest”. In this brief, but important section of dialogue, the audience is already made aware of the confrontation that exists between the two. Showing and telling the audiences the conflict between the two characters preps the audience for the fight that is about to take place and the importance of the fight.
Before the first punch is thrown in a fight, warriors must approach each other to get close enough to fight. In Hero, the nameless warrior jumps through the air and starts sprinting towards his opponent Sky in order to defeat him. During this dramatic sequence an extreme close-up of the nameless warrior’s feet are shown splashing in a puddle of water. This shot is crucial and symbolic in the terms of what the fighting mentality represents. By showing the warrior take his first steps towards Sky by having his feet splash through water, Zhang shows how fighting disrupts peace and tranquility and automatically puts the audience in an intense state. The shot opposite to the nameless warriors attack is of Sky, which shows his eyes trained on the warrior’s movement. The portrayal of the concentration Sky has is important to note, because the shot tells the audience how focused and experienced he is as a fighter. The slow motion that is created for dramatic effect also enhances the experience of how time slows down during those few seconds before the first punch is actually thrown.
When two opponents meet face on against each other at the very start of a fight the results are explosive. Hero is no different and enriches the first contact against the nameless warrior and Sky. When the nameless warrior’s blade touches Sky’s spear for the first time a metal clashing sound can be heard, and a close-up shot of both the blade and spear are shown connecting with one another. Cotemporary World Cinema points out “Their swords trail in lakes like ink-brushes, extending an analogy between calligraphy and swordplay” (Chaudhuri, 98). The concept of having the warrior’s blades touching one another is important in fighting, because the blades represent the warrior’s power and grace. The way the blades are positioned when they connect for the first time is also symbolic in the film. When the two weapons crash, for a brief moment on the screen an X is shown. This is significant, because the X pays homage to death in cinema, common in most mafia movies. This in turn foreshadows Sky’s death and shows that the nameless warrior will succeed in his mission. Overall this leaves the audience on the edge of their seats and forces them to pay close attention to how the warriors fight.
In most films depicting a fight sequence between two characters, a soundtrack is played in the background to express emotions. In this way the music becomes part of the warrior’s own soul. In Hero, when the old man is packing up to leave the palace, the nameless warrior stops him and pays him to play one last song. After he pays he talks with Sky, “Martial arts and music are different, but they share the same principle”. The dialogue at this point suggests the complexity and beauty that music has. This same complexity and beauty can then be related to how fighting works within the film. During the fight scenes the shots are tight and focused around the two main characters. The music that follows can be looked at as how the warriors fight. Just like there is a rhythm to music, the fighting that takes place between Sky and the nameless warrior is rhythmic and has a sense of flow. This comparison and how the film uses the comparison, allows the audience to think about how fighting is shown as rhythmic and not just randomly executed punches and kicks.
While fighting is considered mostly a barbaric subject in America, the use of fighting styles in Hero stresses the unique art form that fighting truly is. Unlike champion pro wrestling, Hero goes beyond simple fighting techniques and blends a unique style of fantasy to how the characters fight. In the scene where Sky and the nameless warrior are shown fighting each other with their own minds, the film shows them jumping and defying the laws of gravity. In the book Cotemporary World Cinema, author Shohini Chaudhuri says, “In breathtaking fight scenes, combatants dressed in lushly coloured, flowing robes fly through the air like calligraphic flourishes” (Chaudhuri, 98). While this fighting is depicted as fictional, Zhang highlights the amazing feats that the human body is capable of. Ultimately Zhang wishes his audience to see the superhuman capabilities that the body can achieve while fighting, and the fight scene is used in order to prove that power of how important the mind and body connection must be in order to be a true hero.
The role of chess is vital in the fight scene that takes place against the two warriors in the film. Through the chessboard a broad range of meanings can be shown. The first important meaning to grasp is the lesson of strategy that is involved in chess. In chess the main goal of the player is to take out the king, with Hero, the nameless warrior has to assassinate Sky in order to, in essence, checkmate the King (Daoming Chen) that is causing problems for the nameless warrior. The second element to chess that is important to the fight scene is the element of being able to predict the opponent’s moves. This is shown clearly when a close-up shot is shown of both the warriors closing their eyes to imagine the fight. When they do imagine the fight everything is shown in black and white, which symbolizes the game of chess further by demonstrating the two sides. Along with the hidden subtexts of chess within the film, several shots of chessboards are shown throughout the entire scene between the nameless warrior and Sky. This further proves the significance of how chess influences how warriors think and act when fighting, especially within the film.
The fight scene that takes place between the nameless warrior and Sky is very important for the foundation of the film. Overall the fight allows the audience to experience all of the elements that go into a fight. Through Hero’s unique blend of fast pace editing and beautiful sounds, Zhang dives into the art of how fighting can be portrayed as an art form to be admired and treasured. The films overall commentary depicted in the fights leaves itself standing as more then just a well shot fighting movie in the end, but becomes a film that strives to make the audience look at how fighting scenes in movies are not just mindless entertainment, but more meaningful. In this way Hero succeeds at changing the fundamental process of how fighting is looked at and thought of in culture.