We’re nearing the end of pre-reviewed movies for Finally Watched. While I’m far from being caught up with my list (which I don’t have an actual written list of for the record) these were the ones I ran through during the whole musical cable companies fiasco.
I’m not a super-huge martial arts movie fan. Sure I’ll watch one if I come across it and I’ve seen quite a few. It’s just not a genre I typically go looking for. 2000s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the only exception not featuring Jackie Chan. The movie has become a meme for two reasons: the name and the “wire-fu”, where the actor is strapped into a harness and is made to fly during fight scenes, although “fly” is more like “float like you’re on the moon and occasionally glide” than anything Superman does. I guess that’s flying in China. The movie is from China and the version I saw, recorded during a Starz or HBO preview weekend–I forget which at this point–and it was the subtitled version. Chinese is a strange verbal language to my ears, but that’s the version they showed so it’s the version I went with. I don’t even know if it has an official dub out there.
The movie looked beautiful in the trailers and I think it was mainstream US audience’s introduction to wire-fu, if not the first use of it. From there many Chinese martial arts movies with a similar spiritual lean have used the technique and it’s been parodied to a small extent. The question is how good the movie’s story is, because all I’ve ever heard about the movie is the visuals. Kind of like Cirque Du Solei–you hear about the visuals but not the story.
RELEASE DATE: 2000
RELEASED BY: I’m just going to say Sony Pictures Classics in the US because between production and distribution it’s a VERY long list.
RUNTIME: 2 hours
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
GROSS INCOME: $213,525,736 out of an estimated budget of $17,000,000
The Plot: A martial artist named Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat) who sought his master’s killer, the scorned disciple Jade Fox (Pei-Pei), has given up his training after a mediation gone wrong. (It makes more sense in the movie.) But he is called back when his sword, the Green Destiny, is stolen by the Fox’s own disciple, Jen (Ziyi). Joined by his would-be love, Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh), Li must regain his sword and avenge his master, but Jen, daughter of a governor, also fights an arranged marriage that threatens to take her away from her true love, the bandit Lo (Chen). Things are not going end happily.
Why did I want to see it?: I remember seeing the ads when it first hit theaters and it looked visually interesting. I had seen Chou Yun-Fat in a few movies over the years, although I’m not a huge watcher of his work. I like martial arts movies when I watch them, but it’s not one of my go-to genres. Although I do like a good Jackie Chan flick, but who doesn’t?
What did I think?: You’re going to want me to talk about the “wire-fu” so let’s start there and hope you watch the actual story review. Yes, the fight scenes are good. The flying in this movie is different from the flying in, for example, the Dragon Ball franchise; more light and floating than traditional flying. There’s a certain “dance” quality to it that makes it look beautiful to watch. This also shows in most of the fight scenes, except where it wouldn’t work. Computers were only used to edit out the wires. That’s the performers or stunt performers doing those movies with an actual set or location. The tree fight was a bit off to me personally but otherwise it was all really good.
However, this is a blog about storytelling, not fight choreography and special effects. The movie also does a good job here. The main theme seems to be (at least to me) not necessarily about forbidden love but love unattainable. You have Jen and Lo as well as Li and Yu. Even the Jade Fox’s backstory involves wanting to be trained in the Wudan style (despite the teacher not wanting to train women…I’ll come back to that) but being refused even while sleeping with the instructor. That’s why she killed him and stole a manual of secrets. While the book itself doesn’t come into play it is tied into the myriad of relationships that make up the story, that of lovers as well as teacher-student relationships. It’s all done quite well.
As for the women, despite the main school we never see either not training women, the women in the movie are great fighters. The aged Jade Fox learned from the pictures while Jen could actually read and learned other techniques, allowing her to keep up with Li and Yu. Li is the better of course but Jen turns out to not be a bad person and her character arc is about her claiming the life she wants while learning it comes with its own responsibilities. Yu doesn’t get to fly but she can jump and fight, often holding her own in a fight. Considering how China and martial arts movies like this often treat women and women characters it is nice to see that outside of the school and the whole arranged marriage thing women are treated as equals.
The ending, without giving it away, I’m not as thrilled about. I just like happier endings and my American mind does not get the final scene.
Was it worth the wait?: I think so. While it isn’t a movie I’m going to rush to watch again I’m glad I saw it. It really was a good movie and worth anyone’s time seeing it. The fights are good but the movie really isn’t about fighting the villain, although when there is a villain she works well in the story and not just there because we have to fight somebody. While I don’t think I would have missed her, she works well enough. If it looks at all interesting to you by all means watch it. It’s at least good enough to watch once.
I also learned there’s a sequel made for Netflix. I don’t have Netflix so I won’t be seeing it anytime soon. I am admittedly at least curious about the movie since I did enjoy this one but I doubt I’ll be seeing it anytime soon. Netflix doesn’t typcially release its stuff on home video.