Interpreting the specimens of Asian culture is not easy; the symbols, the way in which they are decoded, the messages and the means to convey the latter differ from the European and the American traditions greatly. However, the aforementioned does not mean that Asian movies are a closed book for the rest of the humankind.
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Taking a closer look at some of the elements of the Asian films, one can possibly see that there are, in fact, a number of ideas that cross with the European and American concepts. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the most graphic examples of such phenomena – while the movie is filled with the elements of the oriental culture and ties in several plot lines.
Despite the abundance of exaggerated scenes of ridiculously unbelievable fight moves and the over-the-top twists of the plot, as an attempt to introduce the specifics of the Asian aesthetics to the viewer, the movie can be considered a masterpiece.
Action movies seem to have been put on a conveyor belt shortly after the Hollywood had taken over the world as the movie production giant. Acquiring an easily identified pattern and cardboard characters to go with, action movies turned into a staple very quickly. The same cannot be said about Crouching Tiger, however.
Perhaps, due to the fact that it is not a Hollywood production and, which is even more important, it never intended to have anything to do with the latter, Crouching Tiger offers an intriguing trip into the specifics of the Asian culture in general and Chinese culture in particular. As a matter of fact, the movie has quite a unique history.
To start with, the movie was inspired by the environment in which Ang Lee grew in. As the movie director recalls, the movies about Chinese martial arts were shown every week in the neighborhood where his family resided. Delighted by the possibilities that the plastics of the people teaching Chinese martial arts was, lee decided that someday, he would devote an entire movie to showing the beauty of these movements.
However, the world might have never seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s incredible aesthetics of motion if it has not been for one film show in the local cinema. Delighted by the plastics of the actors’ movements, he decided that his movie must introduce the elements of such plastics as well: “Indeed, in both films the power of the heroes has little to do with the capabilities of their bodies, clearly evident in the weightless jumps of The Matrix and the gliding run in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (Baker n. p.).
In fact, the two movies have much more than only the fight movements in common. The plot of the two films also revolves around the same idea concerning the hidden reality: “In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the hidden reality is never explicit, but is implied towards the end of the film” (Baker n. p.). Finally, the movie introduces the characters, which are very similar to the ones created in The Matrix, especially the female cast.
There is no secret that in the Eastern traditions, women are typically offered the role of a housewife, the weaker sex, which is highly dependable on the stronger one. In Crouching Tiger, however, much like in The Matrix, a new female image is offered – an image of a warrior and a fighter. For example, Yu’s skills in martial arts can be easily compared to the ones of Trinity, one of The Matrix’s lead characters.
For example, Yu’s comment on the skills of dealing with weapons: “The handle is heavy. And the blade is no ordinary metal. Still, the sword is the lightest of weapons. You’re just not used to handling it” (Lee) sounds almost as dramatic as the famous “Dodge this!” by Trinity (Wachowski).
Therefore, being the result of Lee’s fascination with martial arts, the fact that he grew in the environment where the Taiwanese and the Chinese cultures mixed in such a delightful way and lee’s fascination with Wachowski Bros.’ Matrix, the movie could not have gotten any stranger than it turned out to be.
A weird yet irresistibly attractive mixture of the Taiwanese and Chinese legends, the present-day reality and the surreal fight scenes that deny the gravity, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has something to offer to both the East and the West, therefore, linking the two cultures.
Analysis – Watching the Movie Evolve
One of the specifics of Crouching Tiger is the fact that it is not stable – instead, it evolves with every frame of the picture. The characters grow, the plot evolves, time passes by; there is not a single element that would remain unchanged in the course of the movie, which lends much charm to the film.
The movie and historical accuracy – a development of perspective
This is the point at which the audience typically divides into the movie haters and the movie lovers, and for very legitimate reasons. the movie fans, as a rule, tend not to pay attention to the lack of historical accuracy in the movie, giving credit to the incredible film aesthetics and taking the picture for what it is, i.e., a very good-looking fairy tale for an older audience.
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Others, on the contrary, claim that the lack of historical accuracy reduces the movie to a number of stunts and a forced storyline. No matter what one might say about the inconsistencies concerning the plot and its lack of pints of contact with the actual history of China, one still has to admit that its plot evolve in a rather whimsical and, therefore, peculiar way, for an action movie.
The movie and gender roles – the evolution of thought
As it has been mentioned, one of the doubtless strengths of Crouching Tiger is its feminist perspective. As Kearn puts it, “While Li Mu Bei (Chow Yun Fat), a dude, is considered the most respected warrior, women are unquestioned in their capacity to be skilled warriors” (Kearn n. p.).
While the concept of a “strong, independent woman” had been done to death by that time in Hollywood movies and had practically become a staple of an action film, Lee managed to create a female character that could appeal not only to the female audience, but also to the male one, with its strength and confidence. What makes Yu so likeable is not her martial skill – it is the fact that she is a human being, not a fearless warrior.
Truly, despite the environment in which she had grown in, i.e., a basically chauvinist world with a patriarchal principle and a very strict hierarchy, she manages to become a fighter, but she also has a number of qualities typically considered to be very feminine, i.e., shyness, grace, elegance, etc.
Thus, the audience sees a real character instead of Amazons on steroids, and, therefore, buys the unrealistic fight scenes easily. The fights, hence, serve as a foil for the character development, which is also very peculiar feature of a movie that was supposed to be an action film.
The evolution of the setting – what lurks in the background
The last but definitely not the least, the setting of the movie should also be given a proper mentioning. Even though this setting has little to do with reality, as it has been stressed above, it still offers an interesting journey into the world of Asian culture in general and Chinese culture in particular. Set in the era of the Qing Dynasty reign, the movie starts with a shot of the Yuan Compound, which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the film, creating the atmosphere of bellicosity.
The movie is not restricted to a single location, though – while the majority of the events at the beginning of the movie unwrap in the Yuan Compound, the setting is changed several times throughout the film. The movie starts with the images of the suburban China and then shifts to a much more claustrophobic perspective. The characters are seen mostly either in the apartment, or under the cover of darkness.
The given decision of the movie director can be interpreted in several ways; however, the most obvious one concerns lee’s goal to contrast the peaceful mundane setting of the palace with the dangerous and threatening nature of the Chinese streets in the night. Thus, Lee prepares the audience for the ensuing fight scenes without forcing these scenes onto the unsuspecting viewers.
Finally, the era that Lee chose to make the plot revolve around is also very significant for the interpretation of the movie. If Lee set his motion picture in the present-day world, it would not have looked that revolutionary; instead, it would have been just another action movie.
However, seeing how Lee was eager to introduce a new image of a warrior, a woman and the Chinese martial arts to the viewers, there clearly was no point in setting the movie in the realm of the XXI century. Instead, Lee wisely chose the time when anarcho-feminism was in full swing (Ma 6). As a result, the movie appeared rather credible – or, at least, as credible as a movie with Chinese warriors hovering in the air could possibly get.
Despite the fact that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was marketed as an action film, it actually is more than merely another fight flick. Incorporating the elements of action, drama, change in setting and psychological development of the characters, the movie offers an enticing journey into the world where the Chinese and Taiwanese culture meets the European and American one.
With the help of a very clever use of settings, Lee created a unique universe that seems frighteningly real despite the cartoonish fight scenes and the presence of a very exotic culture. Managing to marry the styles that no one could ever think of as compatible, Lee created timeless classics that millions of people will watch over and over again.
Baker, Geoff. “Portraying the Quest for Buddhist Wisdom?: A Comparative Study of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Journal of religion and Film 10.1 (2006): n. p. Web.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. EDKO film. Taiwan. 2000. Web.
Kearn, Megan. “Is ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ the Most Feminist Action Film Ever?” Fem 2.0. 2013. Web.
Ma, Qian. Feminist Utopian Discourse in Eighteen-Century Chinese and English Fiction. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004. Print.
The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss. Warner Bros. Pictures. Burbank, CA. 1999. Web.