Hero — Yīnɡxiónɡ

Hero (Chinese: 英雄, Pinyin: yīnɡxiónɡ) is a 2002 kongfu 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.


Hero was first released in China on October 24, 2002. At that time, it was the most expensive project and the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history. Miramax Films owned the American market distribution rights, but delayed the release of the film for nearly two years. It was finally presented by Quentin Tarantino to American theaters on August 27, 2004.


Box office

When Hero opened in Hong Kong in December 2002, it grossed a massive HK $15,471,348 in its first week. Its final gross of HK $26 million made it one of the top films in Hong Kong that year. On August 27, 2004, after a long delay, Hero opened in 2,031 North American screens uncut and subtitled. It debuted at #1, grossing US $18,004,319 ($8,864 per screen) in its opening weekend. The total was the second highest opening weekend ever for a foreign language film; only The Passion of the Christ has opened to a better reception. Its US $53,710,019 North American box office gross makes it the fourth highest-grossing foreign language film and 15th highest-grossing martial arts film in North American box office history. The total worldwide box office gross was US $177,394,432.


Translation of “Tianxia”


Jet Li as Nameless, an assassin who wrote Tianxia in the film 

There has been some criticism of the film for its American-release translation of one of the central ideas in the film: Tiānxià (天下) which literally means “all (everything and everyone) under heaven”, and is a phrase to mean “the World”. In fact, for its release in Belgium, some two years before the U.S. release, the subtitled translation was indeed “all under heaven”. However, the version shown in American cinemas was localized as the two-word phrase “our land” instead, which seems to denote just the nation of China rather than the whole world. Whether Zhang Yimou intended the film to also have meaning with regard to the world and world unity was at that time difficult to say. Zhang Yimou was asked about the change at a screening in Massachusetts and said it was a problem of translation: “If you ask me if ‘Our land’ is a good translation, I can’t tell you. All translations are handicapped. Every word has different meanings in different cultures.” However, in Cause: The Birth of Hero – a documentary on the making of Hero – Zhang mentions that he hopes the film will have some contemporary relevance, and that, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks (which took place just before the movie was filmed) the themes of universal brotherhood and “peace under heaven” may indeed be interpreted more globally, and taken to refer to peace in “the world.” The phrase was later changed in television-release versions of the film.


Awards and recognition


    Zhang Yimou (L) and Maggie Cheung (R)

Hero was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards but lost to Nowhere in Africa (Germany).

Zhang Yimou won the Alfred Bauer Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2003 for his work in Hero.

The National Society of Film Critics awarded Zhang Yimou their Best Director award.

The New York Film Critics Circle recognized cinematographer Christopher Doyle with its award for Best Cinematography.

The Chicago Film Critics Association awarded Hero Best Cinematography, alongside Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

Hero received seven Hong Kong Film Awards in 2003, including Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound. The movie was also nominated for seven other awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Song, and Best Director.