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From Under A Rock: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

January 8, 2018 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
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From Under A Rock: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon  


Hey it’s a new year! Thanks for surviving and coming back to read our column. This week, we crouch, we hide, we kick your ass.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Drop Dead Gorgeous. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Released: July 6th, 2000
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: Wang Hui-ling, James Schamus, and Tsai Kuo Jong
Zhang Ziyi as Jen Yu
Chow Yun-fat as Li Mu Bai
Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien
Cheng Pei-pei as Jade Fox
Chang Chen as Lo “Dark Cloud”

Aaron Hubbard: So I picked this because I was genuinely surprised Michael hadn’t seen it. It was one of the big event movies of the early millennium… and it surprisingly holds up really, really well.

Michael Ornelas: I “watched” this with my first girlfriend ever in middle school, but it was an excuse to just make out for a few hours, so I haven’t “seen” it. Not to brag, but it’s my truth.
Crafting a Legend
Aaron: So I think it’s important to note that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not meant to be a realistic martial arts movie. Wuxia warriors are basically a Chinese equivalent to Greek heroes like Perseus and Odysseus, and they are capable of doing things humans can’t. While the physics of wire fighting isn’t my favorite aspect of the movie, it does get across the tone; this is something legendary. The characters are the arch, the story is told in broad strokes, but it works. And it gives us an excuse to see Zhang Ziyi completely own a dozen different fighters with her unbreakable badass sword.

Michael: The fighting style, the fights themselves, and the Green Destiny are all legendary, and such captivating parts of the movie. The “flying”, for lack of a better term, took some adjustment, but once I accepted it, I was mesmerized by the creative sequences they were able to come up with. I can’t even say any of them are standouts above the rest because they’re all so cool and unique. The sword itself added a lot to the combat because watching it tear weapons in half had my jaw dropping. I think my favorite fight was when Jen wrecked Iron Arm and all the other dudes in that establishment. But her two fights with Yu Shu Lien were incredible as well, and the first scene with Jade Fox was devastatingly badass.

Aaron: The second fight scene between Jen and Yu Shu Lien is my favorite fight scene ever. It’s a perfect example of how experience and mastery overcomes talent and hubris. Jen may have the ultimate weapon, buy Yu Shu knows it better than she does and uses it to her advantage. One other aspect of the movie that I find interesting is how everyone feels like they have complex histories before coming into this story. And they do, in fact; this movie is an adaptation of the fourth book in a five book series. Pretty great.
The Nature of Destiny
Michael: The name “Green Destiny” was apt for the sword because it belonged to Chow Yun-fat’s Li Mu Bai character at first and while he was trying to get rid of his destiny, in the end he couldn’t escape it. He kept being drawn back into this world of combat despite wanting to retire and live his days out in monk-like fashion. His wisdom was one of the main driving forces of the plot and seeing a mature, seasoned vet grab the hilt and fight one last time was a sight to behold.

Aaron: I think the most interesting aspect of his character is how he wants Jen to be his apprentice. Like, it’s kind of weird that they have such a traditional teacher and student dynamic, but are also enemies for most of the movie, right? It’s a pretty unique approach. And I like how Li desperately wants to pass on his knowledge but how Jen just wants to carve on his own path. And their obsessions really cost them their shots at happiness.

Michael: It really did manage to feel like an extended mentorship despite being on opposite sides of the blade. And by the end, obviously their positions resolved, but what a fascinating journey it was. Jen was so complex that I kept rooting for her to do what I felt would be “the right thing”, because she was so talented, but so reckless. I dug her arc more than anyone else’s.
Danger in Plain Sight
Aaron: So the title is a reference to a proverb about how dangerous creatures can be hiding just out of your vision. In this case, this is a story where women are overlooked because of their gender and are the most dangerous ones. Jade Fox murdered Li’s master because he wouldn’t teach her because she was a woman. Yu Shu Lien is an effective bodyguard largely because nobody knows she is one. And Jen is a prodigy, who is almost about to get trapped in an arranged marriage.

Michael: I love that idea. I actually didn’t pick up on that, but yeah, that makes so much sense. Right around the time that Jen takes out the entire restaurant, it struck me that these are some powerful women. Jen made herself a legend in that scene. The “crouching tiger, hidden dragon” metaphor also goes to show someone right in front of your face that you don’t even know is a threat, like Jen is when she’s simply a maid, seemingly. She stole right out from under their noses, and is the biggest dragon in the film.

Aaron: It’s funny how this keeps cropping up in my picks. But I think, in this genre in particular, it’s cool to see. People talk about how groundbreaking it is for a film like Wonder Woman to be a success, but I think this may be the only movie I’ve seen that passes the Bechdel Test… with sword fights.

Michael: I liked this a lot, and while there was a period of adjustment, it was a beautiful film with some truly innovative visual action. The performances were exactly what they needed to be, and the film breezed by (minus the time they spent in the backstory of Jen’s romance).


Aaron: Not everything in this works for me. I don’t think Ang Lee’s strengths have ever been in dialogue scenes and that’s no exception here. But he knows how to tell stories with spectacle, and the spectacle here tells great stories. And that’s sometimes enough.


Michael: That was a blast. Didn’t have anyone to make out with this time so I actually watched it!

Aaron: …I never have this problem.

What’s your favorite Ang Lee movie?

Next week:

Michael: I love space. It’s been long enough since I picked a movie involving it.
Aaron: This is an alien movie right? Hopefully it’s good.

Michael: Kind of? It’s very different.

What are some of your favorite overlooked space movies?

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The 411
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a breakthrough hit in 2000, introducing us to Wuxia wire fighting in a purer form than we saw in The Matrix. But it's more than just mind blowing choreography (which it has); the movie tells a story with interesting characters and universal themes. In some ways, it's not that different from Star Wars or a superhero film, but it's a decidedly different flavor of that story.