Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon


I have seen the film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, at least three times.  It is a film I see every time it is shown on TV.  I think it is regarded as an ‘action’ movie because of all the fight sequences which are beautifully choreographed and are more like ballet than violent encounters; there is very little in the way of injury and bloodletting.  But the film is more than just exciting action.  It is about the nature of reality.


The film begins with Li Mu Bai a famed warrior and superlative swordsman giving away his sword because he no longer wants the life of a warrior. The sword represents a life of violence and destruction but nevertheless a life of adventure and excitement. Mu Bai comes to the conclusion that to devote oneself to such a life, to suppress feelings of love and lose the opportunity to build a relationship, is a waste of a life. Shu Lien, a woman warrior and life long friend, a woman whom he has loved but for whom he has never acknowledged his love, understands perfectly what he means; she too has denied her love for Mu Bai; she too has wasted her life   Though she has achieved fame and independence, she believes she has not been true to herself.


Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien encounter Jen Yu, a beautiful, young woman, who pines for the very life that both Mu Bai and Shu Lien now wish to relinquish.  Jen wants the adventurous exciting life of a hero.  She has trained in secret and has become a superb practitioner of the martial arts.   She is excited to meet Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien whom she envies for the lives they have led.  And she covets Li Mu Bai’s sword.  Possession of the sword, which represents heroism for Jen and enslavement to tradition for Li Mu Bai, becomes the means to challenge both points of view.  Li Mu Bai admits to missing the sword when it is stolen.  When Jen Yu decides to run away from home, she steals the sword again.


 Jen has been trained in secret by Jade Fox, the archenemy of Li Mu Bai; Jade Fox murdered Li Mu Bai’s master. Though Jade Fox is a superb warrior, Jen Yu has surpassed her in terms of skill and ability because Jade is illiterate and was unable to access all that the training manual had to offer.  Jade has spent her life trying to overcome the stigmas that attach to being a woman and to being from a lower class.  She has empowered herself, is independent and is as renowned as Li Mu Bai but not as a heroic figure.  Rather she is considered a witch and is feared and hated for the kind of activity for which Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien are revered.  Her feelings of inadequacy, her desire for power and her frustration at not having the opportunity to fulfil herself as a truly outstanding warrior have turned her strength and ability to criminal activity.  But Jen Yu admires Jade for her independent spirit and it is Jade’s strength and power that make her realise that she can never be satisfied with the circumscribed life of a traditional woman. 


Unlike Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien, who follow the path of traditional warriors, Jen follows her instincts and, like Jade Fox, challenges the conventions of society.  Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien have always accepted the norms and values of their society. As warriors they have obeyed all the rules; Shu Lien tells Jen that with rules she will become a better warrior and person. Li Mu Bai’s desire to become Jen’s master is just such a desire to bring her within the fold of tradition.


But Jen has a free spirit, the influence of Jade Fox, but it is her encounter with Lo, another free spirit, that rescues her from the dehumanising discipline that gave Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien a false understanding of reality.

Jen Yu’s encounter with Lo, gives her the opportunity for love. When Shu Lien tells Jen that she should always be true to herself, it really is unnecessary.  Jen has always been true to herself.  It is Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai who have not been true to themselves.  It is they who have lived a circumscribed life. Confined to stereotyped notions of heroic warriors, they have denied themselves the right to be real human beings.


But Jen retains her freedom. Even after she is reunited with Lo, she flies off the bridge into the water.  Is it because she wants Lo’s wish to come true or is it because she will not be conscribed?  She jumps from the Wudan bridge, Wudan, the stronghold of tradition, tradition of the warrior in the form of Li Mu Bai.  Jen flies off the Wudan bridge.  Is her action an abrogation of old traditions?  Does it demonstrate that tradition removes us from reality and makes it impossible to give full expression to our human potential?