Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a motion picture fantasy drama that falls under the category of wuxia, which means chivalric martial arts film. The film gained so much popularity in Asia, it managed to make its way to the states and win four Academy Awards, including best foreign film. The film was made on a $15 million budget using Mandarin dialogue, and it grossed $128 million. The plot of the film is set in the Qing Dynasty in China during 1778, the 43rd year under Emperor Qianlong. The Quing Dynasty is often referred to as the Manchu Dynasty.
This dynasty was the ruling dynasty of China from 1644 to 1912. So, apart from being an action film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is also very historically relevant to Chinese culture. Along with the beautiful cinematography, the film also has a deeply metaphoric plot. A major reason why this film has had such a successful reception is because it exceeds the expectation of just being a simple action film. Within all of the films historically relevant wardrobe, and artistic fight scenes, lies a plot line that makes a sociological statement about the lives of the Chinese living during this era.
When I first viewed this film, like many others, I was confused by the ending scene where Jen casts herself off of the cliff to die. After some research and further analysis, I see this as a reaction to her societal obligations. On top of this, this scene was not meant to be taken literally, but figuratively as to the growth in maturity she had attained by the end of the film. This is seen in all of the contrasting relationships. Jen is representative of youth. Though she is talented, she lacks the same restraint to which Shu Lien and Li adhere.
They are elder veterans, and they represent contributing citizens of society and the status quo. The audience is made aware that Shu Lien has a lot of self control by the fact that he has not yet married Li, when there is a sense they should already be wed and have a child around Jen’s age. In fact, the prude level to which either Li or Shu Lien refuse to act on their feelings is cringe worthy for the amount of emotional tension it musters. On the other hand, Shu Lien’s relationship with Jen borders between being fatherly and sexual.
The most key and symbolic scene that justifies this notion is the final fight scene where Jen lunges the sword straight at Shu Lien. The sword has long been metaphorically identified as a phallic symbol, and the fact that Jen is such an attractive empowered female aggressor, Western critics couldn’t help but eat this up. This exact scene is often viewed as a release of Jen’s sexual frustration, or symbolic of her aggressive male like courtship of Shu Lien, making him the female. In fact, all of the battles between these two are considered to be flirtations.
These are some of the underlying conflicts that lead to Jen’s big fall, but the fall itself makes a defining statement about Chinese societal obligations during the 1700’s, as well as it shows a major difference between Eastern and Western ideals. Ever since the dawn of western civilization people have admired the societal outcasts, this is especially true of those living in Europe and The United States. The prime example of this is our fascination with Robin Hood, pirates, bank robbers, hackers etc…
Eastern ideals are in immediate opposition to this. They believe in one finding their place in society as apposed to rebelling against it. Shu Lien and Li are civilized members of society and defenders of it great power and ideals. The upcoming generation is embodied by Jen, a youthful rebel who refuses to be mentored by Shu Lien or anyone else, but this is only because he has yet to show her his full capabilities and gain her admiration. This shift doesn’t occur until Jen witness Shu Lien use he sword on Jade Fox and show his full strength.
It is this moment when Jen realizes Shu Lien had been holding back, for the bigger picture of mentoring her. This causes Jen to mature. Her descent from the cliff is symbolic of her youth dying so her mature self can prosper and find its place in society. This is why it’s not made clear whether she lives or dies. In sum, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a culturally significant film because it gives a clearer window into understanding Eastern ideals, in contrast to our own.
Where Hollywood would most likely have her ride off into the desert to remain a rebel and a legend, Chinese ideals prove more simplistic. Work Cited Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (2007, January 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:24, February 6, 2007 “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. ” Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [CD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005. Qing Dynasty. (2007, February 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:27, February 6, 2007