A dazzling spectacle, Zhang Yimou’s wuxia film classic Hero (2002) tells the tale of an assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor, who unified China in the third century BC. Critically lauded and a box-office hit in China and around the world, the film stars an A-list cast including Jet Li as the nameless assassin, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk as his fellow killers, as well as Chen Daoming, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi. Hong Kong tattooist Olivia Wong explains how the film changed her life.
The first time I saw Hero, I was 19 and studying image design. I had started to learn about styling, photography, hair and make-up while in school during a particularly creative period, and what I learned then inspired my aesthetic point of view. I watched the movie out of curiosity as all of my classmates and tutors had recommended it. I had expected it to be an eye-opening film – and it did not disappoint.
Hero had a tremendous impact on me in terms of the way I visualise ideas, from a literal to a rather meaningful, complicated perspective, by layering images, colours and spaces. Zhang Yimou uses a wide range of colours to represent emotions. Each colour represents a story, to guide the viewer through an intense yet calming journey.
The set design also remains clean, allowing the colours to speak. And while this is extremely effective, it seems effortless. There’s not much dialogue, with the actors focusing on expressions.
Hero taught me the concept of “less is more” – allowing a single concept to stand out without adding tonnes of irrelevant stuff. If you look at my design work, you will probably find it uses a lot of empty space, with just a few colours, to let the main concept shine. It’s direct yet effective, and definitely informed by Hero.
I’ve seen this movie many times and my opinion of it hasn’t changed at all. Every time I watch Hero, I feel like I’m being taken on an emotional journey. But I still always see details I’ve never noticed before. The attention to detail still amazes me.