Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Got damn, the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” video series is crack full of fuck ups as of recent from me and I apologize y’all. First, in case you didn’t see my video explaining, YouTube blocked the The Red Shoes episode based on copyright claims (which I will not dispute because, to be fair, they’re not wrong). And now, in extracting the video from my Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon DVD, I done fucked up again and find the extract unusable so – among the fact the work on the podcast Movie Motorbreath Breath, intending to post the latest David Lynch review by tomorrow night, wanting to do a couple of franchise overviews for movie sequels that came out this year (2015 has been THE year of the franchise as of late), and working on the first two videos of another Motorbreath video series “Nobody Asked for Your Opinion, Salim” – suffice it to say that this week will not be another Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon video. I don’t know when I’ll find time to finish that video, but I promise to have it done sometime in the interim between this season and the next HMYBS season that Nathaniel R. has at The Film Experience, while I’m working on past HMYBS assignments that I wanted to have a hand in (last week, I released one for Jurassic Park, so get on that. Because my dog is in it.).

But now the GOOD news. Which is that, in spite of the movie being Crouching Tiger, Hidden Fucking Dragon, a movie well known for its amazing motion scenes, my pick of best shot is not at all based too much on motion. Kind of subtle motions, as in the face behind a mask, but not at all as overt as the wuxia combat style (In the video, I was going to explain why I am not a huge admirer of wuxia cinema – although I appreciate the art form – but looking back on what I’ve shot, I feel like I’ve stumbled over my words and don’t know how to put my feelings on it very eloquently. I will simply state that, while I am very much a fan of East Asian Cinema and martial arts pictures, since we got Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Jackie Chan, and recently South Korea has been on fucking point, wuxia has not been my thing. Also weird since I’m an Opera enthusiast.).

You see, since Dick TracyCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the first movie Nathaniel R. assigned since I started participating that I actually DID have to re-watch because I didn’t have any previous shots in mind. Most of the other films I did – AmadeusJurassic Park, especially Magic Mike and The Red Shoes, and even my earlier (but under the radar) Batman and Eternal Sunshine picks – I didn’t just remember them so clearly I knew which shots I was going to pick, I remembered them so clearly I knew which clips I’d use at what point before starting to make the video/article. Prior to last night, the last (and first) time I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was in November 2007 and I remember loving it and admiring it, as I wasn’t as jaded from Jet Li and House of Flying (but pretty) Bullshit to be skeptical about the genre. Thankfully, upon my rewatch, I was pleasantly surprised to find the film’s aesthetic and storytelling still holds up to me, but not only that…

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn’t speak to me at all as an action film. It certainly has some impressive and (at the very least) memorable setpieces sprinkled around it, but what was the true core of the film was its characters – in particular, the struggle between passion and discipline for its four central characters: Haunted living legends of the edge Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat, in a role that almost felt weird seeing him in anything without a suit and a handgun) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), Governor’s daughter Yu Jen (Zhang Ziyi in the role that made her an international star for a while), and even the desert bandit Lo “Dark Cloud” (Chang Chen), all acted fantastically (albeit spouting off different fucking accents which bothers a lot of Chinese speakers), all with a romance between Mu Bai/Shu Lien and Jen/Lo, and all of them acting like love will destroy who they are instead of setting them free. Hell, we could even toss in the discipline/passion struggle towards Cheng Peipei as Jen’s Governess (she does have a name but I don’t want to give it lest you haven’t seen the film and want to be as surprised as I was when it was revealed and how it changed the story). Honestly, it’s not a surprise that this is the same director as Brokeback Mountain when you come to think of it (director Ang Lee’s best film in my opinion), since it’s clear that the man knows how to make emotional self-imprisonment believable and dangerous like both movies present them.

Anyway, the shot I’m about to go with will not require a SPOILER WARNING but the explanation I give will, so here we go.

Part of what struck that “character study” feel for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon above being a “design-o-rama” film (in spite of being a historical wuxia, meaning that we want to feel the setting and in a medium such as film, that would mean a LOOOOOOOTTTTT of wide and medium shots to just know that we’re in an old Qing Dynasty temple or hall or summat. As we do get a lot of those in the latter half of the movie when they are surrounded by deserts and mountains and forests and such, but not so much in the first half.

In the first half, we get a loooooooooooottttt of close-ups instead. We get glimpses and wides of the homes and such, but we’re more focused on the moods and the gazes of our protagonists rather than the epic history we’ve been shot into. It’s not modern, it’s more soap opera-esque, but it works. And as tempting as it was to go with one of the lavish environment shots later in the film, I had go with discipline and choose a shot that I thought spoke about a character rather than about how epic and vast the story is meant to be.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.38.10 PM

This is one of the really earlier fights in the film – where the masked thief of the Green Destiny sword (previously owned by Mu Bai’s master before being passed down to Mu Bai) intervenes in Mu Bai’s killing of the Governess and fights him – and even if we are not yet formerly introduced to Jen’s skill as a swordsmaster, you’d have to be pretty damned reaching not to at least suspect Jen is the masked thief at this point.

The stance she makes is extremely regal and proud, even if it is a Wudang stance (being as misinformed of Wudang as a martial art short of knowing it exists as a fictional form strictly form for wuxia productions, I cannot say if the stance is bullshit or not). The screencap I took unfortunately is ill-lighted to see the dark green of the Green Destiny she wields against Mu Bai, but she holds it high and above her as a taunt, and the arch of her eyes and her brow tell of how fucking pleased she is with the adventure she has given herself after being threatened to a married life.

Passion absolutely took over for Jen and it’s hard not to slightly root for her for being the first person to actually break free. It turns what was previously a pretty intense fight into a bit more joyous of an occasion. At least until the governess kills the fucking mood by killing Inspector Tsai minutes later.

It’s a little bit harder than should be to pick out who is the real lead in this movie. Only a little bit – Shu Lien gets most of the screentime by my count and Mu Bai is certainly the person everybody (audience and characters) wants to see most, but Zhang’s breakout and internal commentary between the two different sides of Jen as a person – the swordsmaster and the noblewoman – makes her absolutely my favorite performance of the film (I also say it is one of many things that gives the movie a feminist subtext that 100% went over my head when I first saw the movie).

Imagine my thrill when I saw her bring that emotionally fragile tug-o-war to Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (and then my dismay when I discovered the version that came to America to be a complete fucking mess and close to ruining her performance).

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