The Year of the Monkey is upon us and we’re really excited about the idea of Reading Around the World – but how about watching round the world as well? We have loads of foreign-language films by great directors in the DVD Lobby.
We’ve talked about Ang Lee before as one of the directors responsible for bringing the traditional Chinese genre of wuxia (a kind of martial arts epic) to worldwide notice, but today we’re looking at one of his most iconic films, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (DVD Lobby 791.43).
Ang Lee was born in Taiwan and has made a career out of culture-hopping, genre-bending work that shows he refuses to be pigeonholed. He is responsible for one of the best adaptations of a Jane Austen novel ever (1995’s Sense and Sensibility), a romantic drama about a relationship between two cowboys (2005’s Brokeback Mountain), a sadly not well-received superhero film (2003’s Hulk) and a lush adaptation of Yann Martel’s young adult novel Life of Pi (2012). At the same time, he never forgot his roots and directed an espionage thriller set in 1930’s Shanghai, 2007’s Lust, Caution, featuring a wide variety of Asian languages, and the critically-acclaimed wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the story of a feud between two martial arts masters, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei), and how it impacts the people around them. Li Mu Bai decides to retire from fighting and asks asks his fellow warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to bring his legendary sword, Green Destiny, to an old friend as a gift. While there, Yu Shu Lien meets a young noble called Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) who is in an arranged marriage and longs for adventure. However, when the Green Destiny is stolen, Yu Shu Lien discovers that the seemingly mild-mannered young woman is in fact the student of Jade Fox and a great martial artist in her own right, torn between loyalty to her family and her desire to be a warrior (as well as her desire for a certain charming bandit who wants her to run away with him). Jen Yu steals the Green Destiny, betrays Jade Fox and starts on her own adventure as Li Mu Bai and Yu Shi Lien try to get the sword back from her.
Even if you’re completely new to martial arts epics or don’t usually like action films, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has everything: romance, mystery, ancient feuds, beautiful scenery, and some really fantastic fight scenes. The actors are all fantastic and the film brought Zhang Ziyi to international attention. She has now become one of the most recognisable faces of internationally-released Chinese films like Lust, Caution, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and The Banquet. Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh were already famous in Hollywood and their portrayals of Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien, two great warriors bound by love but torn apart by the pain of their past, had audiences calling for a prequel.
Ang Lee composes breathtaking scenes, whether we’re watching the balletic fights of the heroes across rooftops and through trees, or gorgeous vistas from mountains and deserts. All of this is accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack from composer Tan Dun, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and singer Coco Lee. Stunning, powerful and exciting, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a wonderful piece of cinema.
If you liked this…
Try Hero and House of Flying Daggers by Chinese director Zhang Yimou. After Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon brought wuxia to the attention of Hollywood (though it should be noted that the genre has a rich history in China), more films in a similar vein were released internationally. Hero is the story of an unnamed martial artist who seeks an audience with the paranoid King of Qin to tell the story of how he killed the assassins who had previously attempted to kill the king. As he narrates his tale, it quickly becomes evident that he is not telling the king everything. Cutting between elaborate fight scenes and intense political discussion, Hero will keep you glued to the screen all the way through. House of Flying Daggers is more of a romance, as two police officers manipulate the daughter of a rebel leader to discover the location of the notorious House of Flying Daggers, only to find that their deceptions could destroy their friendship and lead to heartache. Both films are stunning to look at and the director is known for using different, vivid colours for each scene, which only makes them more epic. Find both in the DVD Lobby at 791.43.
Check out some of Ang Lee’s other films, such as Lust, Caution (DVD Lobby 791.430951), Life of Pi (DVD Lobby 823.92) and Brokeback Mountain (DVD Lobby 791.43). His work is incredibly varied and always beautifully filmed, character-driven and well acted.
Stop by the Information Store to see our Chinese New Year display!
Nicholson, Caitriana (2011) Bamboo. [photograph] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/caitriana/