Study Guide: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

Study Guide and Study Questions

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

(Wo hu cang long)

(“Crouching tiger, hidden dragon” is a Chinese philosophy that refers to keeping your strength hidden from others and warns that, because others may also be practicing it, you never know when you’ll meet up with someone who is stronger and better than you are.The “wu” in “wuxia martial arts” refers to “martial arts” or “combat”. The “xia” refers to a person whose sense of righteousness is so profound that it empowers them to sacrifice themselves and even break the law to help people. The closest equivalents in English would be the hero, knight, warrior, or vigilante in superhero comics.

In terms of wuxia masterpieces, Xia nu [A Touch of Zen] (1969) is seen as the influential epic grandmaster of the genre. Ying xiong [Hero] (2002) is another good example. Some other wuxia flicks of note are Shi mian mai fu [House of Flying Daggers] (2004) and Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia [Curse of the Golden Flower] (2006). If you like wuxia movies, try some of Akira Kurosawa’s jidaigeki cinema, like Ran (1985), Kagemusha (1990), Yôjinbô (1961), and Shichinin no samurai [Seven Samurai] (1954). Another movie of interest might be Huo Yuan Jia [Fearless] (2006). More movies similar to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon include Chi bi [Red Cliff] (2008), Musa (2001), and Ching Se [Green Snake] (1993).)

Runtime: 120 minutes

Director: Ang Lee

Screenplay: Hui Ling Wang, James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai

Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Zi Yi, Chang Chen

Choreographer: Yuen Wo Ping

Distributor: Columbia TriStar

Cinema Release Date: January 2001

DVD Distributor: Sony Pictures

DVD Release date: June 2001

Wikipedia site:,_Hidden_Dragon


The film is set in the Qing Dynasty during Emperor Qianlong’s reign.

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.


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. (source:

Study Questions

  1. What values do the Wudan masters teach their pupils?
  2. What does the sword symbolise? What does it give to those who fight with it?
  3. What is each of the characters searching for? Do they show concern for the afterlife? What is their priority – now or the future?
  4. How would you describe Jen’s character? What lessons did she have to learn?
  5. Why did Li Mu Bai have such a strong desire to teach Jen?
  6. What happens when you get too attached to the material world? What is the solution, according to Li Mu Bai?
  7. How do you obtain anything worth having?
  8. What is the purpose of the fight scenes?
  9. Could Li Mu Bai have become the master that he was if he had pursued a relationship with Shu Lien?
  10. In China, bamboo symbolises righteousness. What is the fight between Li Mu Bai and Jen really about?
  11. “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?
  12. What is the path of ‘the way’ that the women seem to find?
  13. Why did Jen have to leave Lo in the end? What made her jump?

One response to “Study Guide: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

  1. Pingback: Film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon | History of Stuff

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