A friend of mine in France kept telling me that Hero was fascist, and provided me with criticism from Europe about its fascist overtones. I didn't think it was fascist, but it was definitely nationalistic. It was pretty obvious that Yimou was trying to avoid censorship and gain the support of the Chinese Film Authorities, not only to get the film made, but so it would screen in the Chinese mainstream and earn revenue at the box office. I can't blame him for wanting to make a commercially successful film within his own country, but the result is a politically messy film that cuts its nose off despite its face.
The King is not the "Hero" in question, and the film doesn't favour his heroism. You could see Yimou trying to make that point implicitly at the end when the King hesistates in having Nameless executed, but capitulates to his advisors' demands. They pressure the King to kill Nameless for the sake of conquering All Under Heaven, when Yimou's subversion of the wuxia genre had been Broken Sword's idea that all could be united under heaven. There was nothing to suggest that the King (and future generations) wouldn't keep perpetuating in cycles of violence (which is how most Zhang Yimou films end), and I don't the King shared the same ideals as his would-be assassins. The problem was that Yimou tacked that epilogue onto the end, over the shot of the Great Wall of China, and while there was no translation of the Chinese, I assume it was about the cultural progress that the King made by unifying China. There's no way that anybody can argue that this wasn't done to appease not only the Chinese authorities, but those critics within China who have always accused him of selling out to the West by portraying China in a negative light through political allegories and thinly veiled criticism of the social conditions. With his budget, I don't think he could afford to make another film that Chinese audiences are ambivalent to. Hence, the nationalism.
It wasn't the politics that bothered me, though. The story was limp and uninspired. I thought it was a waste of Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung's talents. They were both in Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time, which is a beautiful wuxia about memory and desire, love, longing and loss, and has a narrative structure that really is like ashes of time. It also has one of the most stunning endings I've seen. I don't see how we're supposed to care about them in Hero, since we know so little about them and are subjected to them dying over and over again, with no resonance whatsoever. I had read so much about how they evoked real emotion and passion, but I felt absolutely no emotional connection with them whatsoever. It's the most unmoving film I've seen them in. The most positive thing I can say about the film is that the scene where Maggie Cheung fights Zhang Ziyi in the autumn leaves is a really beautiful scene.