The turn of the century was also the turn for me as a moviegoer. I began seeing that stuff happened behind the camera as much as in front of the camera (it also helped that DVDs came into the full). There were so many questions I had to ask the likes of names like Spielberg and Lucas. Still, I like to think that there is some bit of me that is naïve enough to believe that what I was seeing on screen was real. Which brings us to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), a movie I still refuse to see what happened behind the scenes.
Set in the (unspecified) past of China, the film starts with the reunion of sword master Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow) and his partner/friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). He has returned from a long time of meditation, realizing the ways of fighting are behind him as he looks towards a future of peace and prosperity. He asks of Shu Lien will take his famed sword, Green Destiny (one of the coolest swords in the history of film) to be put in the care of his friend Sir Te (Sihung Lung).
During this time, Shu Lien comes across the daughter of Governor Yu (Fa Zeng Li), Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang). She is set for an arranged marriage she is not looking forward to and tells Shu Lien how she dreams of a life of adventure like the ones she reads about in her stories. She clearly idolizes Shu Lien and Mu Bai, and the two women become as close as sisters. All this changes when a thief in black takes the green destiny sword for her master Jade Fox (Pei-Pei Chang), who murdered the former master of Mu Bai.
I know the film is almost two decades old (!), but it is still a film that (like most films) does not deserve to be spoiled. Certain characters are in different aspects of life, but are still learning despite their ages. One thing the film also reminds us of is the role of teachers. When Mu Bai notices the thief, he is impressed in knowing that they have learned his martial arts style (this is because of a book the thief had read in the past).
All this, however, would not substitute for a guiding hand to explain why the words were written in the first place. It is like having a young person given a bible for the first time, but not letting that person’s questions be answered (or worse still, being given the wrong answers).
The thief is clearly rebellious, unable to admit they are lost (“No growth without assistance.”). This is not all their fault (Jade Fox is clearly a false teacher). It is basically like that of Anakin Skywalker (from Star Wars). He started off well, only to be seduced by Palpatine (aka the emperor) and the dark side. Both try to be better than the teacher, which is never a recipe for success (“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” – Luke 6:40). The key part of the verse is “fully trained”.
Parents, the film does include one flash back sequence which has a moment where two characters sleep together. Nothing is fully shown aside from some extreme kissing. There is also (of course) some intense action and some violence (rather mild though considering what is in movies and TV shows nowadays). The PG-13 rating is rightly applied here, but mature middle schoolers may be okay.
Of course, what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is mainly known for is being one of the first films to introduce “wire fu” to American audiences (basically stunts on wires, then removing the wires digitally). The result concludes with one of the more beautiful films of the 21st century, paving the way for other films like Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). Words cannot do justice to describe the scenes: they are handled with the same amount of care, grace, and determination as a Fred Astaire dance segment.
Yes, the films are foreign, meaning you have to read subtitles (I feel the utmost pity for people who can’t watch a movie because they need to read subtitles), but that does not make the message of the film any less palpable. As Li Mu Bai would say, give yourself up and find yourself again.