After directing three well received films in Taiwan, Ang Lee was able to penetrate Hollywood, crafting the Oscar winner Sense and Sensibility. Lee followed up that film with two equally well received (but not big financial hits) before returning to Asia to begin production on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Largely an international effort, CTHD was made for only $17 million but found international success, eventually raking in $213 million and winning an Oscar for Best Foreign film. So popular was CTHD that it led to an increase in popularity of wuxia (martial arts) films- seeing the release of House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, and Hero (one of may favorite films) in the years following.
Ang Lee may be one of the most gifted directors working today. Having worked in so many different genres, Lee continually puts out excellent films (with the exception of 2003’s The Hulk, which is neither horrible nor excellent). CTHD is no exception, displaying Lee’s ability to masterfully balance drama, romance, action, and even comedy in a film that is wonderfully lensed.
It’s the complexity of the film that is it’s strongpoint; it’s story layered with multiple themes. And while forbidden love, the role of gender, and the importance of honor are some of the themes explored, the most fascinating theme is that of poison which plays heavily in the film. Jade Fox, upset that as a woman she will never be allowed to learn Wudang skills, uses poison to kill Li Mu Bai’s master. This deceptive use of poison speaks to Jade Fox’s personality, whose bitterness drives her to do whatever it takes to get what she needs. Jade Fox uses the poison of words to great effect as well, raising Jen to lie, cheat, and steal- planting a seed within her that eventually blossoms into arrogance and invincibility. After learning of Jen’s Mudang skills, Li Mu Bai sees the potential in her, urging her to allow him to properly train her before she becomes a “poisoned dragon” (a Chinese idiom for rebelliousness). It isn’t until Jade Fox’s attempt to kill Jen using poison (and consequently killing Li Mu Bai instead) that Jen realizes the destructive nature of Jade Fox and the lives she has ruined. Unfortunately, just as she was too late in coming to Li Mu Bai’s rescue with an antidote, her realization comes to late as well, leaving so many lives ruined in the process.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has so many things to offer beyond it’s themes- the haunting score, spellbinding cinematography, great acting, and beautifully choreographed fight scenes are just some of the wonderful things to explore. It is definitely a film that warrants multiple viewings.