So, in an effort to be a better film student, I’m trying to catch as many of the “major” and important releases that I’ve missed before they go off of various streaming services. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a movie that I’d always intended to see (due to my love of martial arts movies), but was, in all honesty, put off by because of the Oscar hype that surrounded it. I won’t go off into a long discussion (rant) about hype, but let’s just say, in some cases, hype has the opposite effect on me–it makes me less inclined to see a movie, not more. However, with it (at the time of this blog post), scheduled to go off of Netflix later this month, it seemed like the perfect time to check it out.
What I Liked
In a way, waiting might have been a good thing. I don’t think hat I would have appreciated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nearly as much. What it does, it does very well and is an example of something that “transcends its genre.”
I liked the personal story being told and the way it handles its central characters. In a way, this is a story about love–what is it, how is it exhibited, what happens when it is unrequited, what happens when it is set free, what is the place of marriage and love–are they analogous, or are they mutually exclusive? It is also the story of women and their roles and functions in a patriarchal society. This is the element that I feel that I would have missed had I seen it when it came out. Hear me out, as I’m not an unenlightened neanderthal. However, there are certain genres that turn me off–crime/mob stories, heist stories, and, yup, you guessed it, “love” stories. In my earlier days, this focus on love, marriage, and women’s issues would have “ruined” the movie for me. However, having taken Dr. Hixon’s Disney film class, I now understand how those tropes have permeated through the movie landscape (for good or ill) and I’ve learned to pick up on them and not “hate” them as much as I used to.
I also liked the martial arts. For a martial arts movie, I thought the actual fights were good Now obviously, that isn’t the true focus of the movie and they could have been stronger, especially the earlier ones. But I found the ones in the later half of the movie to be particularly interesting and well done in terms of choreography.
The characters were also well done, although the women characters are the ones who truly shine in story. The men are a bit one note, even the two main male leads. Both seemed under used. While I’m glad they didn’t go with the traditional “love” triangle for this story, breaking the focus up between the two male characters meant that neither the “strong, silent” protagonist or the “rebel without a cause” protagonist had a chance to shine. They both seemed under developed due to the lack of screen time they were given.
Finally, I like the story. Again, it wasn’t as strong as I’d been led to believe by the hype–it isn’t the best story I’ve seen in a martial arts movie–the Ip Man movies come quickly to mind, but it is far from the worst. I would give the plot (just the events of the story) an A-/B+ alone.
What I Didn’t Like
Okay, really the only thing I didn’t like is this movie’s claim to fame: the unrealistic gravity defying “flying-running” on air. I understand this from a stylistic choice and even from an aesthetic choice to differentiate your martial arts movie from everything else out there, but every time it was on the screen, it took me out of the action.
Look, I’m more into well edited, hyper kinetic fight sequences. The pseudo-rolling combat of Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, the methodical and clearly paced combat of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man, and the frenetic energy coupled with masterful comedic timing of Jackie Chan’s earlier movies (specifically thinking of Rumble in the Bronx here). Each one of these shows that it is possible to create a believable fight sequence that is both clear and fun to watch (okay, okay, so the edits in Marvel Movies are sometimes hard to follow, but as my mind mostly fills in the gaps, I’m okay with it).
However, knowing that it is clearly impossible for the action in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be occurring without wires really takes me out of the action and story. I would have even preferred some sort of supernatural/hypernatural explanation because for humans to run up walls, jump from rooftop to rooftop and fight on swaying limbs was just too far for me. It didn’t help that the actors/stunt people clearly looked like they were being held upright by wires, even if we couldn’t see the wires. The way their bodies moved and swayed, clearly indicated that gravity was affecting them in a way that only wires/harnesses could have mitigated.
Had the movie been made today, a lot of the action would have probably been digitally created using digital models of the characters and animated with appropriate physics. I know it is heresy, but it would have to have been done this way for me to have liked it and kept it from distracting me and taking me out of the story.
Overall Grade: A-
Overall, I think this movie did what it set out to do: tell an interesting story about two female characters in a repressive, patriarchal male society in ancient China. While I’m not sure that I like the very element it was praised for (the unrealistic flying effects), I can say that I did like the story, characters, and martial arts far more and those elements really made the movie come alive for me.
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