CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON makes the martial arts antics of Charlie’s Angels and The Matrix look like so much pillow fighting. And unlike the chop socky of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, ANG LEEis new film has plot, characters and drama that also pack a
punch. Words: Miles Fielder
JANE AUSTEN AND BRUCE LEE. TWO NAMES you don‘t often hear in the same sentence. .\'ot unless you‘re talking to filmmaker Ang Lee. that is. In the breathtaking and beautiful Crone/ling Tiger. Hidden Dragon. he‘s combined the emotional aesthetics of one and the acrobatic plan. of the other. refining the martial arts genre and taking it to a rarefied new plateau in the process. Kung fu will never be the satne again.
The critics are unanimous on this point. So are the public. Throughout Asia. Crone/ting 'Iiger has been a phenomenal success and. in America. its initial box office takings suggest it's likely to be the most successful foreign language film ever. This 'Iiger‘s also tipped for ()scat's.
Yet getting Crone/ling 'liger made wasn‘t easy. Though 'l‘aiwan-born Lee had both commercial and critical success with his first two linglish language films - Sense And .S'eiisilnlil_\' and The lee Storm — his third. the Civil War epic Ride With The Devil. flopped.
So when Lee and co-
writer .lames Schamus
asked Hollywood for
SlSm to make a Chinese-language film. they were shown the door. What followed was a series of negotiations to raise production finance from around the globe which proved to be more complex than a Chinese puzzle.
Then there were the logistical challenges of filming a grade A Hollywood-style production in China. That country has a significantly smaller film industry. so even securing the cast. crew and hefty insurance premium was a problem. That was before they had to cope with a set of locations that stretch from the Gobi desert to the mountains north of Tibet and on to the Kurdistan border. They did studio work in Beijing. sound synching in Shangahi and post- prodttction in Hong Kong. 'Everything has to bend with this kind of filmmaking.‘ says the softly spoken Lee sitting placidly in London's Dorchester Hotel. ‘lt's exhausting. it nearly killed me.‘
10 THE LIST 5—18 Jar 2001
But Lee is a master craftsman. He‘s also a director with a clear vision. as his first three Taiwanese films — I’m/zine Hands. The Walt/int) Banquet and lint Drink Man Woman — proved. Like the new movie. the last two were both ()scar-nominated. .\'o chop-socky populist. Lee is his own man. In Crone/ting 'li'ger. he says. he wanted to use martial arts for ‘emotional expression‘.
With his co-writers Schamus. Wang llui Ling and Chang Sao Chen. Lee has adapted a n‘nxiu novel by Wang l)u Lu. written in the early l‘)()()s and set a century earlier. Wuxia are free-spirited warriors (a cross between
Western gunfighters and Medieval knights) that inhabit a magical world called (iiang llu. Lee. who describes (iiang
llu as ‘a dream China
that probably never existed. except in my boyhood fantasies'. has fused
this fictional tradition with Hong Kong martial arts.
says. ‘ to
explore the legacy
of classical Chinese
culture: the secret martial arts as passed down over time in the great Taoist schools of training and thought. Taoism is enigmatic and can only manifest
itself through contradictions. the confiicts of
the heart rather than through the harmony it seeksf There are four conflicted hearts in Crone/ting Tiger. Two belong to warriors (played by Asian superstars Chow Yon-Fat and Michelle Yeoh) who are unable to declare their
7.. 3'. es:
.3; a ..
love for each other. Two more belong to a young aristocrat tied to an arranged marriage and her bandit leader lover (charismatic newcomers [hang '/.i_vi and Chang (‘lien ). The lives of all four become intertwined. and it's here that Lee mixes martial arts and emotional expression. Bruce Lee and .lane Austen. Crone/ling Tiger‘s astonishing. almost balletic light scenes. chut'cogt‘aphctl by veteran Yuen \\'o l’ing (Drunken .llnster. 'l'lie .l/lull'it). are all the more remarkable for their emotional connection to the story. ‘The actors had to bear in mind character and relationship.. says Lee. ‘lt‘s hard enough to do the feat. but then they have to do a variation and take a blow like it means something to their character. After twelve takes l‘d begin to have the idea: after 3() takes I had it. A battle could take a month to film.‘ Best known in the West as ()(l7‘s sidekick in 'l'nnnn'mn' Never Dies. Michelle Yeoh attests to the rigours of Lee's approach. ‘I was so emotionally charged I felt every blow.’ she says down the phone line from China. ‘The fight scenes were much longer. much more physically demanding. In other films there would be three or four blows then an edit. Ang shot 35 blows. kicking and punching and jumping over each other. It had to be l()()‘é accurate. and when you're working with five or six people pulling you tip on a wire. that's a lot ofelements. It was scary. because it’s almost physically impossible.‘ The wires Yeoh refers to lift the actors 80 feet in the air on the end of cranes for flying combat across rooftops. lakes and -- in a scene only now possible because digital technology can erase the wires — among the branches of a bamboo forest. These phenomenal feats are not merely for effect. The style of fighting used in Crone/ting 'Iiger is Wudan. appropriate to its early l‘)th century setting. Lnlike the more macho Shaolin style practised by Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Wudan is about inner strength or accessing the chi energy which is the Taoist way. In Taoist terms. inner strength leads to transcendence. a metaphor for which is flight. The most transcendental character in Crone/ting 'Iiger is the one played by Yun-l‘at.