#58 Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
(2000, Ang Lee)
“A sword by itself rules nothing. It only comes alive in skilled hands”
Wuxia. A genre of Chinese literature and cinema that concerns traditional stories of noble martial arts warriors on epic quests that got popularised in the West with a little movie known as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee.
Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is an accomplished Wudang warrior, but he wishes to retire from his warrior life. He entrusts his good friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to deliver his sword, the Green Destiny, to Sir Te in Peking as a gift. While in his company, Shu Lien meets Jen (Ziyi Zhang), the daughter of Governor Yu, who is also visiting. Jen is about to undergo an arranged marriage, but she is envious of Shu Lien’s warrior lifestyle and wishes to escape her life. Soon, a mysterious masked stranger steals the Green Destiny, with the most likely culprit being Jade Fox, a woman who murdered Li Mu Bai’s master, and so begins an epic adventure with plenty of stunning martial arts.
In fact, the impressive martial arts sequences are what made the movie so memorable. As well as traditional displays of martial arts with swords (and in a later scene, improvised weapons), Ang Lee combined much of it with wire work, giving the fighters a graceful, weightless look. It would have looked impressive enough for the normal fight sequences, but they went all out, utilising the technique for all it was worth. Characters fight on rooftops before wall running and jumping in ways that would impress hardcore parkour practitioners. It’s then taken to its logical extreme when two characters fight while balanced on bamboo plants, in what has become one of the movie’s most famous shots.
It’s such a shame that these effects are wasted on what is ultimately a fairly generic plot. Obviously, the movie is channelling ancient Chinese legends, so the simplistic, dated nature of the storyline has a legitimate reason for it. However, it does little to modernise the theme. While the nature of gender roles in China is examined through Shu Lien, Jen and Jade Fox, little is done to challenge them. While yes, this movie is about the martial arts above all else, it could have gone further to break down the gender roles and make things a little more interesting. As it is, the plot is overly simple, to the point where sometimes it’s easy to get a little bored when the fighting stops.
There’s also a flashback sequence to round out one of the characters, but it seems to jump out at the viewer in a way that’s disorientating and slightly awkward. It also goes on for way too long, causing us to lose sight of the main plot a little. It could have been shortened down considerably and kept the movie going without too much trouble.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is an entertaining enough movie though. While its plot does suffer, as a piece of entertainment it is wonderful. Many know this as “that movie with the flying Chinese warriors” and if you’re here for those sequences, you will not be disappointed. But don’t expect much more from this. It’s a shame, because it could have done so much more with its concept than it actually did.
Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Lang Sihung & Cheng Pei Pei
Written by Wang Du Lu (book), Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus & Tsai Kuo Jung
Produced by Bill Kong, Hsu Li Kong & Ang Lee
Music score by Tan Dun
Cinematography by Peter Pau
Edited by Tim Squyres
Favourite Scene: BAMBOO FIGHT! It’s that impressive. You will believe someone can stand on a flimsy giant stick and swordfight simultaneously.
Scene That Bugged Me: Jen’s flashback. It feels like it drags on longer than necessary, and flies out of the blue a little.
Watch it if: You like seeing people literally fly across rooftops
Avoid it if: You want more than just some fancy action sequences
Originally posted on Blogspot Thursday 16 February 2012