Heros – and the Greater Good

We’ve reached the first rung on the long ladder of cultural understanding – the “make cheesy over-generalized anecdotes from movies like in a bad sermon” rung. The “actually know what we’re talking about” rung is somewhere in the upper atmosphere… we have a ways to go. But still – let the irresponsible illustrating begin!

hero.jpgIn the movie Hero, the main character (who may or may not be the story’s true hero), is an assassin who allows a ruthless, oppressive warlord to kill him, rather than take revenge when he has the chance and kill the warlord, who had massacred the assassin’s family along with a whole lot of other people. This allows the not-assassinated warlord to eventually conquer all the other warlords and unify China, thus ending the interminable fighting between the Warring States. The assassin chooses peace and subjugation for his people and death for himself over giving this guy what he deserved. The movie ends with the usual death, suicide, bittersweet (mostly bitter) romance, sorrow, and generally amplified pathos that we’re coming to recognize in a lot of Chinese stories, as all the people who personally sacrificed so the assassin would have a chance eventually realize the superiority of peace and harmony through submission to authoritarianism over revenge, justice(?), and more war.

destiny.jpgNow, imagine if Star Wars embraced this approach. Instead of a bunch of cocky, colourful space cowboys taking on an oppressive, British-accented galactic Empire through coordinated feats of individualistic heroism, not the least of which involve Luke Skywalker pursuing and fulfilling his very own special, personal destiny, they decide to just submit to the strong-arm overlords, go back to their own lives, mind their own business, keep their heads down, and each look after their own (assuming that they didn’t realize the wisdom of this approach too late and so end up dying anyway, but not before their unenlightened quest manages to tear all their romantic hopes to pieces, for good measure).

At the risk of peddling tired cultural stereotypes, the idea that individuals should give up their personal desires and ambitions (like vengeance and justice) and ultimate self-determination for the sake of peace and “harmony” is hardly a new one. And I imagine it has something to do with why things are the way they are in China, and why they’ve been that way for thousands of years.

(This more in-depth analysis puts it less cynically, and considers the movie’s interesting messages regarding violence.)

2 thoughts on “Heros – and the Greater Good”

  1. Personally I thought from a story-telling and visual perspective, or even as a cultural apologetics of sorts, the movie was genius — but I can’t ultimately buy into the idea that the world world should submit to despotism for the sake of unity. Not that I buy into the Star Wars idea either where every Westerner dreams they’re “The One”. I am not convinced this movie was really about Qing dynasty though…

  2. I’m not a movie critic, but I seriously wonder if this movie wasn’t just part of Zhang Yimou’s big butt-kissing career rehabilitation effort, which he needed after making earlier critical movies like To Live, and that ultimately worked, as they handed him the Olympics ceremonies. Curse of the Golden Flower carried a similar theme. Aside from the message, it was an interesting movie and we watched it a couple times.

    Pretty sure it wasn’t really about the Qing Dynasty… maybe some other dynasty.

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