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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Mainstream film wasn’t ready for it. It was never expected. Hollywood weren’t happy as they had to up their game after it. So it’s fair to say ‘Wuxia’ in films was a game changer, in particular the 2000 foreign language wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

99% of western audiences had never seen anything like the action featured in this film, people were stunned with its different take on martial arts. Who would have thought a martial arts film in the Mandarin language would become the highest grossing foreign language film in American history. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a literal translation of the Chinese proverb “????”. It refers to the hidden qualities and mysterious that lies in a person. These are the main points experienced by some of the lead characters throughout the storyline.

The Green Destiny magical sword is stolen during mid-transit by a masked thief. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat –Inception) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh – Tomorrow Never Dies) decide to hunt down the thief, however along the way they discover that Jade Fox is the person responsible for the death of Mu Bai’s master and is posing as an assistant to the governor’s daughter. Fox and Mu Bai do battle in the governor’s grounds, but just as Fox is to be defeated the masked thief reappears and whisks Fox away. Whilst all this is happening Lo, a desert bandit, tries to convince the governors daughter, Jen, to run away with him but she refuses. Lien and Bai convince Lo to go to Wudan Mountain and wait for his one true love. The governors’ daughter talks to Lien about Lo, however the talk soon turns to battle and the she uses the Green Destiny to injure Lien.

Bai arrives and gains control of the sword which he throws into a waterfall. Jen dives in after the sword and is rescued by Fox, who takes her to a cave. Bai and the injure Lien discover Jen, but it’s a trap set by Fox who attacks Bai with poisoned darts. Bai professes his love for Lien but it’s too late. With Jen now having the Green Destiny she returns it to its rightful owner, and to finally spend time with Lo.

It seems an absolutely crazy story that really shouldn’t work on screen, but thanks to the fantastic acting and the jaw-dropping action of wuxia it’s a film that should and deserves to be seen. All of the wuxia set pieces were filmed by the actors themselves and not stunt doubles, the director Ang Lee said “Most of the time you can see their faces and see that it is them in the tress”. With filming mainly happening in Beijing and some of the Chinese provinces it completely took all the energy out of the director.

They shot for eight months without a break and also the language barrier became a problem for some of the actors. Only one of the main cast spoke fluent Mandarin, the rest had to use phonetic crib sheets for the first few months. It’s far to say this film made stars out of the lead actors and the director… Ang Lee going on to direct Hollywood films such as Brokeback Mountain and Hulk. Michelle Yeoh now has a great diverse roster of films, mostly foreign films that now crossover to English language cinema goers.

The breakout star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was Chow Yun-Fat. He has now managed to make the transition from Chinese language film over to Hollywood (Pirates Of The Caribbean), but also keep his roots in his native film industry (Curse Of The Golden Flower).

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is really a romance film, just injected with action that had not been seen before. Wuxia claimed a whole new generation of fans due to this one film. Not only does the action standout but also the cinematography is some of the greatest shot on film. It’s no wonder this film claimed so many awards during 2000/01, including four Oscars, no one was ready for this film. It opened so many doors for Eastern actors and films to find a new market; the East became the powerhouse film country for a few years afterwards. One of the greatest foreign language films ever.

Mark Searby
Mark Searby
Film critic for BBC Local Radio. Author of Al Pacino: The Movies Behind The Man. Addict of The Wire. Long-suffering supporter of NFFC.

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