Big Screen Streaming: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
-Film Reviewed by Roger Market-
The wǔxiá (WOO-SHYAH) or martial arts branch of Chinese cinema is traditionally separated into the genres of kung fu and swordplay. Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the most famous and successful examples of the latter, at least in the Western world. Many critics misinterpret the genre, regarding such works as silly, unrealistic action films with people flying around and walking on water. But these tropes ought to be expected. Chinese swordplay movies are better categorized as fantasy rather than action (in other words, the Chinese equivalent of swords and sorcery). The supernatural elements of Chinese swordplay films relate belief in a harmonious relationship with nature, duty, honor, and humanity. A warrior who fights under a particular code—protecting the weak or making sacrifices out of loyalty—can easily bend nature to his or her will. An enemy who has learned how to do the same, however, represents a protagonist’s most formidable foe.
Set in 1779, China is in the 43rd year of the Qing Dynasty. A murderer named Jade Fox is running free. When the Green Destiny sword is stolen from its new home in Beijing, the sword’s former master, Li Mu Bai, entrusts female warrior Yu Shu Lien to recover the relic weapon. These two protagonists have a complicated history and it’s clear that they’re in love. Meanwhile, Yu Shu Lien meets Jen Yu, a young aristocrat who desperately wishes to free herself from an impending arranged marriage. Jen seems to covet Yu Shu Lien’s exciting lifestyle, as she has deep romantic notions about true love and going off on an adventure of her own. By now, viewers sense that Jen was in on the sword heist; if only to cure her boredom. Remarkably, she’s a skilled warrior, holding her own in battle, even against the older, wiser Yu Shu Lien.
While the movie is largely about retrieving the Green Destiny, the sword itself is a McGuffin. The real story lies in the gender dynamics and the Wudang fighting tradition. Women are not allowed to learn the Wudang method, which is exactly why Jade Fox wants to master the art. It’s also the reason she killed Li Mu Bai’s master many years ago. Jade Fox stole the Wudang text, but since she’s illiterate, she could only learn from the pictures. She shared the manual with Jen, who has secretly studied the words to learn the entirety of the Wudang fighting style. Li Mu Bai recognizes this style and offers to teach her, but Jen pushes him away just as she will continue to disregard those who are trying to help her escape Jade Fox’s murderous shadow.
Jade sets the tone for the rest of the film when, during a fight, she tells Li Mu Bai, “Your master underestimated us women.” This line foreshadows everything the viewer will learn about women in this movie but also underscores the anger that Jade carries with her. Time and again, the traditions and secrets are kept from her, forcing her to take drastic measures. Her pain is palpable, and Pei-pei Cheng is a delight to watch as these layers unravel. Likewise, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang are wonderful in their roles as Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu, respectively. Although Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has several leading men, including the indomitable Yun-Fat Chow as Li Mu Bai, it’s essentially a women’s swordplay film. Each leading lady delivers on a promise for highly proficient, high-speed action.
As of this writing, you can watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on both Netflix and Amazon Prime. The long-awaited sequel (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend) will be released exclusively on Netflix on August 28, 2015. Look for Michelle Yeoh to return as Yu Shu Lien in a story that takes place 20 years after the events of the first movie . . . This reviewer anxiously awaits the release and will post a full report, as they say, Big Screen Streaming.
Post Photo Courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crouching_Tiger,_Hidden_Dragon