I can't believe you haven't seen that: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

This foreign fight-flick is a must-see

Credit: 
via YouTube

What do you consider a classic film? Is it in black and white? Has it won multiple prestigious awards? Does it often feel like a chore to select it when browsing through Netflix?

When I decided to watch Ang Lee’s 2000 kung fu epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I was unaware of just how many accolades this film has won. It took a $17-million budget and ended up making $213.5 million internationally. It became the highest-grossing foreign language film in American history and won over 40 awards.

After watching this movie, I must say that all this praise is well earned.

I suspect if I’d known all of this before haphazardly deciding to watch it one night to avoid my readings, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did. As a proponent of never watching trailers, I went into this film blind and I believe that made all the difference.

This didn’t feel like an obligatory acclaimed foreign flick that I needed to amp myself up to watch. I relaxed and just let two hours of dramatic fight sequences wash over me.

Admittedly, I’ve always enjoyed the title of the film. It comes from a Chinese idiom, which describes a place, or situation that is full of unexpected value or talent. But what really gets me is the meaning that the power of the dragon is hidden in within a tiger, a powerful animal in it’s own right. The punches just keep on coming.

I once read that a good critic doesn’t rave. But this movie is fantastic.

The first thing that’ll hook you on a visual level is the beautifully-orchestrated fight sequences. In a preliminary battle between Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien against a masked thief, the characters soar effortlessly through the air. Once you suspend your disbelief for such gravity-defying stunts, you can enjoy the magical realism of the martial arts. It resembles more an intricate dance than anything else, like a comic book fantasy come to life.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a wuxia film, a genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. It comes from a literary tradition, which is why the film deals in momentous themes of honour and chivalry.

Whether it’s noble and skillful hand-to-hand combat, the sword of “Green Destiny” which commands responsibility, or cowardly poison, even the characters choice of weaponry demonstrates an allegorical struggle between the forces of good and evil.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that this movie only came out five years before Ang Lee’s well-known Brokeback Mountain as they feel and look like films that ought to belong in different film decades. However, if you look a little bit closer you can see painful and silently-repressed emotions, yearning and missed opportunities between the two leads in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that informs Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist’s relationship.

Beyond the visceral scenes of action and the long soapy drama of the film, it’s the portrayal of fiery female warriors that I can’t stop thinking about.

Here you have three females of three different generations who exist in different and gender-subversive roles. Jen Yu is the daughter of a governor and secret protégé who has surpassed her master’s combative skills. Yu Shu Lien is a middle-aged unmarried warrior and professional bodyguard who’s unable to express her love to her dead fiancé’s best friend because of her loyalty to his memory. Finally, there is Jade Fox, an elderly woman who exemplifies villainy masterfully. She is talented, bitter and mesmerizing to watch as she brings destruction to everyone’s lives.

Ultimately, the fact that this film was a box office smash and awards circuit darling is important. It was dubbed an example of “counter-flow,” as it challenged Hollywood’s understanding of what makes a movie successful. Here’s a movie that predominantly featured women in positions of power and vulnerability, as well as a movie that didn’t feed into Western ideology. It opened up North American audiences to Chinese actors in complex and challenging roles.

The 2017 awards season is currently underway. In a world where you can vote with your money, here’s an opportunity to help decide what films become future classics. If you give a chance to films that tell stories you’re unaccustomed to hearing, you might end up finding your next favourite flick.

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