Film title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: Hui Ling Wang, James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Zi Yi, Chang Chen
Li Mu Bai—Wudan-trained master fighter and close friend of Lu Shien
Sir Te—Friend of Li Mu Bai’s; recipient of the Green Destiny sword
Lu Shien—Strong female fighter and close friend of Li Mu Bai
Jen—Daughter of Governor Yu; in love with Lo
Dark Cloud (Lo)—Roaming warrior; in love with Jen
Jade Fox—Rebel female warrior who killed Li Mu Bai’s master
Choreographer: Yuen Wo Ping
Distributor: Columbia TriStar
Cinema Release Date: January 2001
DVD Distributor: Sony Pictures
DVD Release date: June 2001
Martial arts, meditation, transcendence, self, obedience, honour, duty, integrity, love
Revered Wudan warrior Li Mu Bai has just returned from meditating on a mountain at the Wudan training school. Instead of the expected enlightenment, Li experienced profound sorrow. He has now decided to give up his sword, the legendary Green Destiny, and radical Giang Hu lifestyle in favour of a more settled existence. He shares these feelings with his great friend Yu Shu Lien, also an expert Wudan warrior of the Giang Hu world. Li asks her to take his sword to a trusted friend in Peking, Sir Te.
After she has delivered the sword, Shu Lien meets one of Sir Te’s guests – Jen, daughter of Governor Yu. They become friends immediately, Jen full of admiration for Shu Lien and her warrior lifestyle, Shu Lien impressed by Jen’s cheerful enthusiasm.
That night the Green Destiny is stolen by a mysterious thief who leaps from ground to rooftop with all the grace of the most skilled Wudan warriors. Shu Lien gives chase but loses the thief when they are joined by an accessory – Jade Fox, notorious killer and murderer of Li Mu Bai’s Wudan master. When Li Mu Bai arrives the next day, he resolves to catch Jade Fox in order to avenge his master’s death. Meanwhile, Shu Lien thinks she knows the identity of the unlikely thief.
Described by Ang Lee and James Schamus as “Sense and Sensibility with martial arts”, it is not difficult to see the parallel storylines in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Behind the controlled exterior of Shu Lien is a woman who has learned to live with disappointment in love because of honour and duty; Jen has all the youthful passion of a younger sister struggling through her feelings to do the right thing. The Wudan manual urges them to give themselves up so that they can find themselves again, but what price must be paid for the hallowed peace of detachment?
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has attracted the kind of hyperbole you might expect to see alongside Oscar nominations for Best Film, in spite of being a Chinese period drama with subtitles. In the UK it broke box office records, opening to the largest audience a subtitled film has ever seen in British cinema history.
Taiwanese Lee grew up with Chinese martial arts movies and dreamed of making his own one day. He first established himself as a western director, making English language hits such as Sense and Sensibility (1995) and The Ice Storm (1997).
In 1999, The Matrix pushed the genre of martial arts films into the limelight, along with Chinese and Buddhist philosophies concerning freedom of mind. The message was clear – free your mind and the body will follow. When the hero, Neo, finally achieves this mental state we see him fight without effort at great speed as he relies on his training and reflexes completely – the self recedes, the subconscious takes control and a master is born. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon elaborates on the style of martial arts used in The Matrix partly through the use of the same fight choreographer, Yuen Wo Ping. Much of the action is achieved by suspending the actors on wires, enabling a kind of flight. Traditionally in Chinese literature, the strength of the Wudan warrior is internal; he is a free-spirited individual who travels around righting wrongs. The theme is transcendence – there is unlimited power available to those who can let go of all external influences – through which all conflicts are resolved and harmony is found. For the characters that have understood the secrets of Wudan, running up walls and across lakes of water is entirely plausible. It is made possible for the audience through Ang Lee’s excellent vision and use of technology.
- What values do the Wudan masters teach their pupils?
- What does the sword symbolise? What does it give to those who fight with it?
- What is each of the characters searching for?
- How would you describe Jen’s character? What lessons did she have to learn?
- Why did Li Mu Bai have such a strong desire to teach Jen?
- What is the purpose of the fight scenes?
- Could Li Mu Bai have become the master that he was if he had pursued a relationship with Shu Lien?
- In China, bamboo symbolises righteousness. What is the fight between Li Mu Bai and Jen really about?
- “Promise me one thing: whatever path you take in life, be true to yourself.” What does Shu Lien mean when she says this to Jen?
- What is the path of ‘the way’ that the women seem to find?
- Why did Jen have to leave Lo in the end? What made her jump?
[“Culturewatch – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Damaris Home Page. Web. 17 Jan. 2010. <http://www.damaris.org/content/content.php?type=1&id=95>.]