Blog Directory CineVerse: Gourmet chop socky

Gourmet chop socky

Monday, May 25, 2020

Technically, American audiences didn't first experience Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon until late 2000. But 20 years ago this month the martial arts movie masterpiece debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Two decades later, there are still plenty of deep truths and poetic virtues to uncover, as demonstrated by the following analysis:

Why is this picture is worth celebrating 20 years later? How has it stood the test of time, and why does it still matter?

  • The ethereal, graceful and masterful quality of the martial arts choreography and fight sequences are breathtakingly executed; instead of employing hard, aggressive fighting styles, it uses catlike, soft, almost balletic movements and depicts superman powers that stretch the laws of physics.
  • While the action and fighting are thrilling and important, it’s not the main focus of the movie: The action serves to advance the story and enhance the characters, rather than the other way around. Director Ang Lee said in an interview that “the choreography expressed the character development.”
  • For a martial arts movie, it’s quite richly textured with a plot structure that features romance, revenge, tragedy, and unrequited love.
  • It’s also a film with five particularly intriguing characters who each possess absorbing backstories and motivations: Li Mu Bai, Jen, Yu Shu Lien, Lo, and Jade Fox.
  • The cinematography, natural location shooting, and extreme widescreen vista result in a sweeping, epic, colorful, and awe-inspiring picture that serves as a feast for the eyes.
  • The score, featuring a mournful cello by Yo-Yo Ma and exciting drums, is beautifully moving and well syncopated to the rhythm of the fighting, movement, and editing.
  • While it has eastern philosophical sensibilities and character motivations that may be difficult for westerners to grasp, it’s an emotionally accessible film for audiences of any country and features exhilarating cinematic moments that can be appreciated by someone of any language or cultural background. Producer and screenwriter James Schamus said: “We wanted a film that would have accessibility to audiences around the world.”
  • Additionally, consider that Americans love musicals, and this film has been compared to a movie musical that substitutes fight sequences and acrobatic action for song and dance numbers.
  • Lee said: “Martial arts films are musicals at heart,” and “Crouching Tiger was a musical for me.”

In what ways do you think Crouching Tiger set trends or was influential popular culture and cinema?

  • While it may not necessarily be the greatest wuxia or martial arts film ever made, it’s pretty close in many viewers’ eyes. A big reason is that, unlike many chop-socky predecessors, often inexpensive quickies low on production value, this movie had a rich sheen to it, thanks to a relatively large budget, impressive cast, and assemblage of talented filmmakers involved.
    • Its success ushered in a new wave of wuxia films that delighted western audiences, including, The House of Flying Daggers, Hero, Seven Swords, Curse of the Golden Flower, Reign of Assassins, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Brotherhood of Blades, Sword Master, and even the animated Kung Fu Panda.
  • Crouching Tiger went on to become the highest-grossing foreign-language film in history up to that time, which speaks to its immediate popularity.
    • Arguably, a foreign film had never received, collectively, so much media attention, public adoration, Oscar recognition, and critical acclaim before Crouching Tiger. It was nominated for 10 Academy Award nominations—a record that still holds today—and won for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Music Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Production Design. At the time, this was only the third movie nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film.
    • That impact paved the way for other foreign films to get imported and noticed in America.
  • With its focus on strong women characters and the female-centric narrative with Jen at its center, this film was ahead of its time. Today, many superhero films and action movies spotlight powerful and interesting female characters who defy gender conventions and expectations. Without Crouching Tiger, perhaps Quintin Tarantino doesn’t make his Kill Bill films, for example, and possibly superhero films with female leads don’t get greenlit. You could make a case that this is the most feminist action movie ever created.

What messages or themes are explored in Crouching Tiger? What’s the moral to the story here? 

  • Revenge, betrayal, suppressed and repressed love, and the pursuit of liberty are the obvious ideas at work.
  • Don’t underestimate women or their agency. The three primary female characters each try to push beyond the boundaries of what culture, tradition, and society expect of women.
    • Jen struggles between her wish to be respected by her family and accepted by society and her yearning to be free of patriarchal rules.
    • Jade Fox is bitter because her mentor wouldn’t teach her the master martial arts methods because she is a woman, and she resents that he was willing to have sex with her but not engage her fully as a partner.
    • By contrast, Yu Shu Lien abides by the moral codes and patriarchal society mores imposed on her, respects the privileges of males, and ignores her desire for Li Mu Bai because it would be dishonorable to wed him after being engaged to his late brother. Yet she demonstrates an awesome repertoire of martial arts skills that is equal to Jen’s and superior to all males in this story except Li Mu Bai.
    • Screenwriter James Schamus said: “The film is a constant dialogue about authority and teaching and mastery and masculinity versus femininity…and how these two things end up not being in opposition.”
    • One interpretation suggests that the Green Destiny sword is a phallic symbol of power that Jen and Jade Fox aspire to.
  • The conflicting relationship between student and teacher (Jen and Jade Fox, Jen and Li Mu Bai), especially when the pupil surpasses the master.
  • Duality, duplicity, and concealment. Ponder the film’s title: The name “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” concerns the hidden or undiscovered talents and mysteries that exist below the surface of a person who otherwise appears normal.
    • Lo’s name means “Little Tiger,” which refers to the “Crouching Tiger of the title.
    • Jen’s real name means “Jade’s Dragon,” which refers to the “Hidden Dragon” of the title.
  • No person is an island. During an interview, Ang Lee said the film suggests that “you can’t live by yourself alone—nobody has total freedom.”
  • Freeing your mind from boundaries and adult rules. Lee was also quoted as saying: “Sometimes you have to go far away to find your long-lost innocence.” He suggested that Crouching Tiger “takes you back to childhood,” a time when you could imagine yourself flying and performing superhuman acts. I think what he’s getting at here is how the film makes you want to believe that people can fly and engage in superman stunts. But to suspend your disbelief, you have to be receptive to the joy of discovery and have a curious and open mind about the wondrous nature of the world.

How are we to interpret the ending, when Jen leaps from Wudan mountain? Is this a suicide, and if so, why does she do it?

  • Jen realizes that marriage would keep her confined and repressed.
  • Perhaps she experiences guilt, as the freedom she sought resulted, inadvertently, in the death of Li Mu Bai.
  • Maybe she believes that suicide is an honorable and heroic action under the circumstances.
  • More likely is that Jen yearns for the total freedom that death would bring, which she can accomplish in a way that harkens back to the story her lover Lo describes earlier in the movie—the tale of a boy who jumps off the mountain. film scholar Tasha Robinson posits that Jen throws herself from the mountain “in hopes that the purity of her sacrifice will please the gods, who will grant her a wish.” We hear Jen tell Lo to make a wish; in response, Lo says he desires to return to the desert with Jen and be like they were before. Perhaps visualizing that image before plummeting to her demise, Jen achieves that wish, at least in her mind.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • The five major fight sequences staged remain fantastically rewarding, each unique and memorable and all the more impressive because each duel refreshingly involves women kicking ass and outshining male combatants or—in the case of the final contest between Jen and Li Mu Bai, females proving to be powerful adversaries.
  • Crouching Tiger is endlessly rewatchable, not just for the dazzling martial arts sequences and combat choreography but for the breathtaking cinematography, nuanced performances, and philosophical truths and questions it conjures.
  • It has a haunting and melancholic resonance, driven home by the often dirge-like cello music played by Yo-Yo Ma and the fact that all the major characters either die or endure with unfulfilled wishes of love. This kind of gift is like dark chocolate—a richer and less sweet confection that is better for your body.
  • It serves as yet another example of the diverse talents of a master filmmaker, Ang Lee, who has distinguished himself in so many different genres, including the romance genre with Sense and Sensibility, the social commentary period drama with The Ice Storm, the western with Brokeback Mountain, the adventure thriller with Life of Pi, and even the comic book movie with Hulk.

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