No 497 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director - Ang Lee
This film slightly splits me in 2. I think the wushu style is beautiful and elegant but I think it slightly 'cheats' and therefore the martial arts elements are slightly cheapened. The idea of wushu (brought to us by our good friends at Wikipedia) is that movements are exaggerated and enhanced with extra jumps and more theatrical movements. This creates a style which is more about aesthetic and theatrical beauty than producing an actual practical fighting style. I think this also can be used to describe Ang Lee's 'Martial Art-House' classic.
There is no denying that Crouching Tiger is a beautiful film. The framing is stunning, with gorgeous vistas of forests, mountain and desert. The fight scenes are an aerial ballet which are stunning to behold - even though they may not be as easy to accept as real due to so many fantastical elements in this style which sometimes make it impossible not to think of the wire work involved.
The problem is, that this film is so aesthetically oriented. This is something that I believe will be a re-occurring problem within this list (I'm saving the brunt of my argument for Sin City) however it seems the story was secondary to the set pieces and visual dynamic of the film.
My housemate Toby thinks that the problem is cultural. The plot for CTHD is very simplistic and probably based around elements from ancient Chinese tales and folklore. It means that not much time has to be spent on plot development as the idea of heroes and legendary weapons and fighting styles are already a well known part of that culture's history. For a western audience it becomes slightly harder to follow the film when facing so many new ideas to integrate within the story. Luckily the story is relatively simplistic (the crux being a sword gets stolen several times and two warriors are after it) which helps.
It is almost as if the central plot is the least important aspect of the film. Using it as a catalyst to explore the subplots - namely the relationships between the 2 pairings. This is a love story framed around a loose story of honour and vengeance with some truly magical set pieces. And the set pieces are truly breathtaking at times:
When it was released, everyone spoke about the impressive bamboo fight scene. Whilst it is certainly impressive the 'floating on air' aspect of the film is too obviously wire work to convince me and I therefore feel very much alienated from the scene. My ability to suspend disbelief is ruined by those little floaty moments. However... the fight between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in the training hall is amazing. The elegant way the characters bounce off Walls and float up to the ceiling during the fight as well as the skilled way that Michelle Yeoh's character changes weapon so many times are the perfect examples of how the fantastical wushu fight scenes should be (in my head).
In fact - when it comes to amazing elegance and fighting there is only one person I can mention. Chow Yun Fat. His character (Master Li Mu Bai) is absolutely perfect. He is a true zen fighter. Part monk, part warrior - As comfortable meditating in a temple as he is on the battle field. his style is graceful and efficient. Almost lazy in his simplicity. No matter how frantic his opponent gets, Li Mu Bai's attack style is a gentle flowing flick of his weapon arm. The his rest of body staying still - yet relaxed. He is never vexxed and can fight off anything. From ill tempered swords men to a barrage of poisoned darts. He stays philosophical to the very last believing in the importance of patience and meditation and wanting to stow his sword away so he can live out the rest of his life in peace. Sadly he just isn't given the chance to stop and he is forced into combat situations. Luckily he is an amazing fighter and reluctantly triumphs through each battle.
He is easily the best character in this film.
And finally - let me end on a shallow note. It is nice for a film to be visually opulent and aesthetically unique. It is much nicer when they also throw in some eye candy. And Zhang Ziyi is very very pretty.