crouching tiger hidden dragon

Revisit the Academy Award-winning martial arts movie that educated the West and changed history.

Although numerous renowned directors cumulatively made more than 800 wuxia movies, none had much of an impact on the growth of kung fu films in the West until a Taiwanese film auteur named Ang Lee entered the picture. He’s the man behind the first and only motion picture to take this art form to Small Town, America. Known for art-house movies such as Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997) and Ride With the Devil (1999), Lee left behind all that was familiar to him as he ventured into the production of the high-flying and wildly outrageous Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Lee said it was like "having John Wayne speaking Chinese in a Western." Based on part of a multivolume, several-thousand-page novel written by Wang Du-lu in the early 1930s, Crouching Tiger is a tale of defiance, duplicity, righteousness and destiny told through the interwoven lives of two women, Yu Shu (Michelle Yeoh) and Jen (Zhang Zi-yi). Along the way, they suffer the torment of undeclared love and are forced to endure the theft of Green Destiny, an ancient and powerful sword. To Western viewers in 2001, the year the movie received wide release in the USA, the sword lore of Crouching Tiger was terra incognita. In a nutshell: Chinese legend holds that each blade has a spirit that sings after it's tasted blood. In the movie, this was brought to life in the form of an overemphasized resonating schwing that was heard whenever a sword was drawn. This was just one of the elements Lee chose when he decided to blend Eastern physical grace and action with American performance intensity and the behavioral subtleties and nuances of European cinema. "Since I grew up with kung fu films, I had to update them in my own fashion," Lee said. “Martial arts films have gone away from the dramatic because you spend 80 percent of your budget and time on martial arts things. It's almost impossible to have both drama and martial arts. Even in the martial arts scenes, it's very difficult and could be dangerous to the actors who have to think about acting while hitting each other in a precise way."

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Hero was a bona fide hit in theaters! Find out what went into making this Chinese martial arts film a success — and why its successor House of Flying Daggers didn't fare so well.

Zhang Yi-mou directed three well-received motion pictures — Red Sorghum (1987), Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991) — and even though the latter two were Cannes Film Festival award nominees, the Chinese film auteur didn’t attract mainstream attention in the West until he tried his hand at the martial arts. Specifically, it wasn't until 2002 when he made Hero, which stars Jet Li and Donnie Yen. The irony about Zhang's ascendancy into the worldwide wu xia film craze is that he never saw a Bruce Lee movie until 1979. And as of 2004, he’d watched only 15 martial arts films, one of them being his second wu xia film House of Flying Daggers (2004). "It's not that I don't like the films," Zhang said when I interviewed him in 2004. "But growing up during the Cultural Revolution, we never saw these films, and it wasn't until film school that I learned about Bruce Lee movies and watched wu xia films." Rather than making a film adaptation of a work from Chinese literature, Zhang spent three years developing an original story for Hero. However, just as he was about to start shooting, Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) was released. That caused Zhang to shelve the project. "I was concerned that people would always think that I was trying to emulate Lee and have Hero be China's answer to Taiwan's Crouching Tiger," Zhang said.

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An acclaimed Taiwanese filmmaker has directed a different kind of martial arts movie, and it's about to hit theaters. In the title role is Shu Qi, co-star of Jason Statham's The Transporter.

If I walk into a crowd and mention A Summer at Grandpa's (1984), Café Lumière (2003) and Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), I’ll probably be met with a sea of blank faces. If I do that with a bunch of Chinese-movie aficionados, no doubt many will immediately think of Taiwanese film auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. “Film auteur” is the term used to describe a director whose personal creative vision is so strong and recognizable that not even the studios behind his or her movies can eliminate the distinctive cinematic signature. There are more film auteurs than you might guess — in the Chinese martial arts movie genre, we have, among others, Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Zhang Yi-mou (Hero) and Wong Kar-wai (The Grandmaster). My goal with this blog is to introduce you to one more. Normally, I don't discuss martial arts films that I haven’t seen or that are pitched to the media as a “work in progress.” The reason: How many times have we all bought into the hype surrounding some martial arts movie star who’s in talks with so-and-so to make such-and-such a film — and it never happens? In this case, however, I carefully considered the impact the aforementioned martial arts films have had, then looked ahead to the potential popularity of the motion picture that’s being helmed by Hou Hsiao-hsien — and promptly made an exception to my own rule.

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With the talent behind it, Jupiter Ascending could have been another Matrix. However, its action scenes and fight sequences weren't quite up to par.

What do you get when you cross The Matrix (1999) with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and then create a universe steeped in contrived genetic science? Jupiter Ascending, of course. Big-budget sci-fi often does well at the box office, but Jupiter Ascending’s $179 million budget wasn’t enough to prevent a disastrous opening weekend that grossed just $19 million and set off sirens that were loud and clear in Hollywood: With all the superhero films that are bludgeoning our brains with expensive computer-enhanced special effects, is the public on the verge of losing interest in such cinematic spectacles? The next Star Wars film might be the genre’s savior — or it could be the final nail in the seen-it-before coffin. What Wars filmmakers and all the others should be talking about is whether a reliance on green screens and motion capture is making fight scenes less gutsy, less physical and less technical. It’s obvious that the fine art of fight choreography is being underappreciated and shortchanged.

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