Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I think you know how it goes by now.  I watch a movie I own, and blog about it.  Simple as that.  This time out, I re-visit Crouching Tiger,  Hidden Dragon.  This is in my notes at February 18, 2018.

Had a desire to re-visit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, mainly because Michelle Yeoh is on Star Trek: Discovery where she's been all kinds of awesome.  SPOILER WARNING FOR DISCOVERY:  Our heroes just got back from the Mirror Universe, where we saw that Yeoh's character's evil twin is the Empress of the Terran Empire (the evil Federation).  She's armed with a big-ass sword, and as the prop guys were saying on the after show, Yeoh had a lot of input into that sword's design, thanks to her legendary history in martial arts films. 

This film made household names out of several Hong Kong action starts, mainly Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.  Director Ang Lee points out that, although Chow Yun-Fat was already a renowned Hong Kong action star, this was his first martial arts film.  It was also the first martial arts film for Lee.  After gaining some fame in Hollywood for his Oscar nominee Eat Drink Man Woman and kicking off that mid-90s boom of Jane Austin adaptations with Sense and Sensibility, Lee finally had the clout to pursue one of his dream projects:  a kung fu film, like the kind he used to watch on TV as a kid in Taiwan.  In fact, I've been told by some kung fu film aficionados that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon pales in comparison to some of those original kung fu films that Lee was emulating.  Regardless, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became a huge crossover hit, and Lee started a mini-boom of kung fu films, as similar films like House of Flying Daggers got a wide release. 

No doubt what also helped in its crossover appeal was martial arts sequences choreographed by famed Hong Kong fight choreographer and director Yuen Woo-ping.  Woo-ping had just had his big Hollywood coming out party having done the martial arts scenes for The Matrix, a fact that was played up quite a bit in the marketing. 

It's 18th Century China.  Yeoh is Shu Lien, a skilled warrior and operator of a private security company.  Yun-Fat is Li Mu Bai, a warrior monk and lifelong friend Shu Lien's.  There's an unrequited love between them.  Shu Lien eventually tells the story of how she was once engaged to Li Mu Bai's best friend.  When he was killed in battle, Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien fell in love with each other as they helped each other through their grief.  But, out of respect for their mutual friend, they both chose to never act on their feelings.  Anyway, Li Mu Bai shows up in town one day, and tells Shu Lien that he's ready to retire from his warrior lifestyle, as there's something holding him back from attaining enlightenment.  Could it be...his unrequited love?  Li Mu Bai gives his sword -- the fabled Green Destiny -- to Shu Lien, and asks him to give it  to their old mentor Sir Te.  Before Li Mu Bai joins Shu Lien at Sir Te's palace, though, first Li Mu Bai must journey to the grave of his master and pray for forgiveness, as Li Mu Bai's retirement means that his master's death at the hands of the Jade Fox will go unavenged. 

Shu Lien arrives at the palace, and meets the young princess Jen.  Jen is instantly infatuated with Shu Lien, as Shu Lien's warrior life represents true freedom to this repressed princess.  Later that nigh, a masked thief steals the Green Destiny.  Li Mu Bai arrives to investigate, and does battle with the masked thief, only to discover that the masked thief is the apprentice to the Jade Fox. 

Well, it turns out that the masked thief is Jen, and Jade Fox is her governess.  Jade Fox has been teaching Jen in secret, and now Jade Fox is starting to become frightened at how Jen is surpassing her in ability.  Later that night, Jen is visited by a desert bandit named Lo.  In a flashback, we see how Jen was abducted by Lo when he raided her caravan, and in the desert, the two fell madly, passionately in love.  Jen desperately wanted to remain with Lo in the desert, living a life that's truly free, but Lo encouraged her to go home and square things away with her family first. 

Needless to say, full of conflicting thoughts and emotions, Jen runs away, to try to lead the free, warrior life that she craves.  She gets into a really cool barfight.  Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien pursue, to try to recover the sword, the missing princess, and to track down Jade Fox.  Along this trip, that's where they come painfully close to admitting their feelings for each other. 

They soon wind up in Shu Lien's hometown, so while Shu Lien checks in at the office, Jen soon winds up on her doorstep, lost and confused.  Shu Lien tries to dispense some motherly advice, but Jen is having none of it, so they wind up fighting it out.  Li Mu Bai soon arrives, and he and Jen do battle.  It's neat seeing that there's almost a family relationship at play, as Jen kinda becomes the surrogate daughter to Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai.  Jen looks up to Shu Lien, and Shu Lien tries to use that to impart some wisdom.  It's the same with Li Mu Bai, as he's impressed with Jen's raw talent and keeps reaching out to her, hoping to take her on as his apprentice. 

Ultimately, this is the story of a confused young woman, trying to find herself and her place in the world.  Some truly want to help her, and some just want to use her for her skills for their own personal gain.  This leaves her very bitter and very confused, as she snaps at those who seek to help.  Hopefully, she heeded Shu Lien's final words of advice:  "no matter what you choose, you must be true to yourself." 

But I should wrap this up.  They all follow Jen back to Jade Fox's hideout, where we have out final duel.  Li Mu Bai finally avenges his master, but at the cost of his life.  With his dying breath, he finally confesses his love for Shu Lien.  Gotta love that final admission of love:  "I would be far happier as a ghost by your side, rather than in heaven." 

That's what makes this film so good.  There's just as much character study going on, as there is kung fu fighting.  And the kung fu fighting is great.  There's almost a dreamlike quality to them, thanks to Yuen Woo-ping's trademark wire work.  Our heroes don't leap as much as they float. 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon totally holds up, and was well worth the re-visit.

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