Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Release Date: 6 July 2000

Directed by: Ang Lee

Country: China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, U.S.

The movie stars Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang ZiYi. The plot centers around a talented female warrior named Jen Yu who is discovered after she steals an accomplished swordsman’s, Li Mu Bai’s legendary Green Destiny sword.

One of the key concepts I’ve identified in was the patriarchal hegemony present. While it is true that Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon has strong and capable female leads such as Shu Lien, Jen Yu and Jade Fox, the most powerful of warriors ultimately is a male (Li Mu Bai) showing that the martial arts field is commonly associated and dominated by men.

 

Women warriors in the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon seem to also symbolise breaking out/confronting oppression or struggle against injusticeShu Lien, the female hero, seems to function as the mouthpiece of WuDang. Jade Fox, the villain whose villainy was born out of scorn and resentment for the WuDang (especially Lu Mu Bai’s master who she killed) for not training females. Jen Yu, an extension and reconfiguration of Jade Fox’s character, still struggling with her conscience, fighting to gain freedom, being oppressed due to her gender (required to marry well and fulfill her duties as a wife) and her aristocratic background (arranged marriage), hence hindering from her desired WuDang life. Female warriors in this movie also all appear on screen already skilled and capable, similar to many other WuXia films.

Swords in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon also hold some form of symbolism, in particular Lu Mu Bai’s Green Destiny sword. The sword can be interpreted as a phallus symbol, a symbol of a man and the privileges of being a man in that era, which is that of freedom. Hence, one can regard Jen Yu’s thief of the Green Destiny sword as her deep resistance against the patriarchal system in China. 

The movie was really intense and gripping. I really love the choreography of the fight scenes. I’ve also noticed that this film had drums playing in the background during the fight scenes, much like in Hero (2002). The ending of the film also puzzled me. Jen Yu managed to meet up with her lover at the end but she still chose to jump down the mountain. It was as though she was saying that even though she loved him, being with him meant that she had to give up her freedom that she had been struggling to achieve. However, this brings me to the question, what makes us truly free? Are we all not oppressed in some way or another? Perhaps she realise that and felt that death was the only way to liberate her.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Deon says:

    I agree with your point of Jen being oppressed by her gender, and this is evident when you mention the fact that she just wants to have fun and be free. However, there was still a glimpse as to how Jen and the Jade Fox managed to hone their skills through the stolen Wudang manual – a key breaking point of how their relationship turned sour when Jen decided to hold back the teachings in the manual, since the Jade Fox was illiterate. The phallus symbol was very apparent throughout, even to a point where Shu Lien decided that 1 weapon wasn’t enough and decided to phallus the living hell out of the symbol when Jen destroyed hers. Great review, very in depth!

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  2. We do see certain levels of oppression being showcased through Jen Yu, as we see her struggling between wanting the freedom that she longed for and obeying her parents’ decision of getting married to a reputable family. She had long yearned for freedom to further master her swordsmanship, and stealing the Green Destiny sword was a bonus.

    The representation and ideology behind the phallus symbol is something that many would have overlooked. I agree that it symbolizes males and it is great how you linked it to Jen Yu’s hatred against the oppressive patriarchal system in China. As a person with such a strong-will and character, she was someone who clearly does not fit into a system that resists her of the privileges that she deeply knows she deserves.

    Great write-up overall! (:

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  3. DAWN TAY says:

    A well-written film analysis once again, with much to discuss. On your point of female empowerment, I felt that While Li Mu Bei (Chow Yun Fat), a man, is considered the most respected warrior, women are unquestioned in their capacity to be skilled warriors. Shiu Lien’s trainee, a man who just had a baby girl, says he hopes his daughter will be half as strong as her. But while women are respected and admired, society simultaneously expects them to obey certain norms. Take Jen Yu for example. She wanted the freedom of a warrior–essentially, the freedom of a man. She doesn’t want to be shackled by an arranged marriage. She is a symbol of the female wu xia breaking out of opression. Jade Fox wants power and to rule, and she kills her master who refused to let women in his training school. Jen and Shu Lien both yearn for freedom, to freely love who they choose. But sexist patriarchy holds each woman back from attaining what each desires. I also agree with you on the open-ended finale in the film. Did she want freedom through death, or did the leap signify a new beginning in life for her?

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  4. You are so right on the point of gender! Having to deal with the patriarchy on top of oppression in those days… Duties to fulfil as a wife and being domesticated, obliging to arranged marriage. While man had all the freedom, to be a warrior and to be accepted in the academy. Despite that holding Jen back, she went after her own destiny. (pun pun) Does that relate to the Green Destiny – aka symbol of masculinity?
    Choice is a theme in CTHD too. Today in China, we see progression, where women not necessarily submit to those gender roles. They are called ‘leftover women’ still unmarried at 30. But some are making a choice not to settle. Maybe this has to do with the rise of feminism. Generally, I was left puzzled too! Though the takeaways were meaningful. Like writing your own destiny and how to be true to yourself, letting go so you can move forward. So many questions, we don’t have all the answers.

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