Retiring from a life of conflict, Li Mu Bai gives away his prized blade, Green Destiny, as a sign of moving on. The sword however is soon snatched away and the search is on. The hunt leads to an old nemesis and her mysterious new discipline.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon must be one of the most iconic titles within the Chinese film industry. I myself have scarcely even glimpsed the trailer of the film yet I knew of its existence. With a name that screams martial arts showdown, I was surprised by its huge focus on romance. Don’t be fooled by that statement however. Tons of beautifully choreographed fight scenes litter the movie to keep you on begging for more.
Word of advice for those who desire realism in their films. If flying Asians who have the messiah’s power of water walking shatters your immersion, steer clear of this movie.
The movie is set in 19th century China, where cars are still are not a mainstream commodity and oxen roam the streets like stray cats. We are greeted by the expansive city of Beijing at that time, its sprawling streets and magnificent infrastructure. The Yu household is filled with ornate furniture which are characteristically of Chinese design.
Such a scene gives international/western audiences a glimpse of Chinese history and the intricacy of Chinese craftsmanship. This exposure of Chinese culture can also be seen within the fight scene between Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu. As she uses Green Destiny to cleave through the arsenal of Chinese weapons, audiences are able to see them in action and learn more of olden Chinese combat. Such subtle peeks into Chinese heritage would be one of the prime reasons why the movie was such a success in the west.
One of its strongest points may also be its weakest points as well. In China, the movie was a flop. And I can empathize with them on this one. Flying through the air while skipping across water mid battle are some of the most tried and tested Chinese film tropes. While a fresh new concept to the west, it lays boring and repetitive on the Chinese palette.
What the film does do well and differently is the way it frames its combat scenes. As Li Mu Bai chases Jen Yu through the bamboo thickets, the camera pans slowly onto Jen Yu’s face. Such point of view framing allows the audience to feel as if they are in the thick of the action. It also allows the audience to see the conflict of emotions written plain as day on Jen Yu’s face. Such framing techniques are a far cry from the quick shifts in camera angles that Wuxia films are renowned for.
A great film for newcomers into the Wuxia genre. Less so for seasoned veterans. 7/10.
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