As it turns out, I was wrong to have claimed earlier that "I am Cuba" was the only communist propaganda piece worth a damn: having now seen "Hero", I must wholeheartedly agree with those reviewers who call it an extended apologia for Communist Party rule, its gorgeous cinematics and the wonderful performances of the main actors notwithstanding. No more glorious epic has one ever found on theater screens promoting as dubious a message - that the claims of individuals mean nothing at all when compared to the goal of unity, even if by the sword. If this is the sort of thing which is drilled into them day-in day-out, I can well see why so many young Chinese believe so strongly in the need to reclaim Taiwan by force.
Am I suggesting that people shouldn't watch this movie? Not at all - I heartily recommend the viewing of what will surely go down as a landmark in cinematography. All I'm suggesting is that one watch the movie in the same critical spirit that one might watch Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" or Sergei Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin", soaking in the visual poetry while never letting oneself be suckered by it into wondering if the underlying message might not have some validity to it. Not once does the movie raise the possibility that there are other ways to achieve peace amongst men than by unifying them under a tyrannic government - and as tyrants come, the Qin Emperor with his legalist philosophy was one of the most brutal rulers on record, second only to Mao Zedong himself in the harshness with which he treated his Chinese subjects.
The great irony of it all is that had ambitious men like the Qin Emperor never succeeded in uniting China's early states "all under heaven", with the attendant power of all-powerful rulers to stifle any potentially unsettling scholarship or attempts at foreign exploration, it might well have been China's civilization that prevailed globally in the end, rather than that of the many squabbling Western states which always had room for each others' troublemakers provided they had useful ideas to offer to advance their rivalries.