Tuesday, October 11, 2016

2000 Winner, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Director:  Ang Lee

Distributed by:  Sony Pictures Classics

Released:  December 2000

Country:  Taiwan

Suspension of disbelief is a must for screening movies, watching pro-wrestling, and voting for President.  One has to have the ability to put aside the obvious logical holes and buy into something that cannot be true.  In regard to the cinema, it is the baseline for viewing any narrative film (a movie that tells a fictional story) or documentary film made by Michael Moore (a documenatary that tells a fictional story).

Even the most realistic films require that you accept things that may not make logical sense—jumps in time and background music, for example, are aspects of a film that make the story work, but don’t necessary follow the rules of reality.  Films with magic or science fiction or singing dialogue are accepted by the audience because they know this is part of the deal.  But Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a film with a realistic setting that asks us to put aside the laws of gravity for the sake of the story.

Flying through the trees
The movie is set in 18th century China and centers on two warrior-friends, one male and one female, played by Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh (I’m going to spare you the character names—no way I would be able to keep them straight).  Yun-Fat wants to retire and is ready to part with his sword, “The Green Destiny.”  He wants Yeoh (whom he has been in love with for years, maybe) to deliver it to an old friend of theirs.  While in Beijing, Yeoh meets a young daughter of an aristocrat (played by Zhang Ziyi—her character is Jen) who is supposed to marry some rich dude but really would rather be a warrior like Michelle Yeoh.  One night The Green Destiny gets stolen and Michelle Yeoh goes after the thief.

Bruce Lee
Here is where the suspension of disbelief comes in.  The next chase scene is just the first of a number of unbelievable actions scenes.  And when I say unbelievable, I mean the laws of gravity are completely thrown out the window.  People are literally flying all over the screen.  And it’s great to watch!  Like watching Pro Wrestling or TV reality shows, if you can shelve your logic, you can sit back and enjoy this film.

Director Ang Lee has made his name in mainstream films in a variety of genres: Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility, and Life of Pi, to name a few.  This movie is an homage to the old Hong Kong martial arts films with stars like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.  Just as Spielberg and Lucas honored the old serials from the 30’s and 40’s when they made Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars, respectively, Lee honors his genre without irony.  The cinematography and choreography are phenomenal, and the fighting and chase scenes would be enjoyable even if there were no story.  The point is, even if you don’t know what the hell is going on, it’s a fun one to watch.

The Title:  卧虎藏.  Now that’s simple Chinese; I didn’t want to confuse you by using the traditional script.  The title comes from an old Chinese saying about a situation with unnoticeable masters, as in tigers and dragons just around the corner.  Or else it means you have talents you should hide and pull out only when you need them, like the ability to run on treetops or do triple spins with your sword.  Again, I think if you are trying to figure out meaning here, you are probably the same kind of person who reads into the plots of shows like Kung Fu or CHiPs.  Let it go. 

The Culture:  More important culturally than learning about China in the 1700’s is the homage to Hong Kong movie-making that this film is.  The movie is of a genre called “wixia (pronounced WAHK-see-ya),” which concerns martial arts in ancient China.  The movie is actually based on a book in a series called the Crane-Iron series, which you cannot find in English.

Agenda Danger:  Harmless new-agey philosophy is on display; nothing you wouldn’t see get in watching an anime or playing “Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”
Link in Ocarina of Time

Best Picture that year:  Gladiator.  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was actually also nominated, as was Ang Lee for Best Director.

Rating:  A very fun movie to watch, especially on the big screen (as I did when it came out), even if when you walk away you have no idea what happened.

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