Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon new 4K release for Silver Anniversary

By Moira Sullivan

It has been 25 years since Ang Lee’s epic 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' was released.  The stunning aerial cinematography and martial arts kinesis choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping with cinematography by Peter Pau were sensational on its release and still hold magic. The film won Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Original Music Score, and Best Set Decoration at the 2001 Academy Awards. Now a new 4K restoration of the film is out in the Bay Area. 

The film stars Michelle Yeoh (Yu Shu Lien), Zhang Ziyi (Jen Yu), Chow Yun Fat (Li Mu Bai) Cheng Pei Pei (Jade Fox) and Chang Chen ('Dark Cloud' Lo). However this story comes across in broad strokes on the screen the subtleties show that it is actually about three skilled female warriors Yu Shu Lien, Jen Yu and Jade Fox whose talents have been eclipsed by their teachers, fathers and brothers. It is exciting to reintroduce this background with the new restoration. It is as powerful as knowing that Ip Man, the martial arts teacher of Bruce Lee, studied Wing Chun Kung Fu - a tradition created by Ng Mui a Buddhist nun in a Shaolin Temple in the 18th century and one of the top five martial artists in China during this time. Wing Chun was designed for women to protect themselves from male attackers. Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh trained in Wing Chun and Tai Chi for her role in this film. 

Yeoh nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once' is the first Asian actress to be so honored. She  began as a dancer and later did her own stunts in several Hong Kong action films including a role as a secret agent in 'Tomorrow Never Dies' in the James Bond franchise. Also of world class renown is Cheng Pei Pei who plays Jade Fox, known as the first female martial artist in cinema and called the 'Queen of Swords'.

Chinese novelist Wang Du Lu wrote the Crane-Iron Series in the 1940’s about four generations of wandering vigilante warriors - Youxia- including the tale of' 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon'. The title means a place or situation that is full of unnoticed masters, and how apropo it is to notice the female masters of this tale in Ang Lee's film.

Zhang Ziyi is excellent as Jen and although cast side by side with Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat, she is the pulse of the diegesis.  From the age of 8 Jen designs a life for herself to become a warrior,  free from the confines of forced marriage. Apprentice to the sorceress Jade Fox, she has been secretly studying the Wudang martial arts manual and her skills soon surpass her teacher who cannot read. She seizes the opportunity to escape her fate by stealing the sword Green Destiny and intends to become the Invisible Sword Goddess. The sword belongs to the great martial artist Li Mu Bai who has been studying with a master in the Wudang mountains. He has decided  to give it away because it has only brought him sorrow since the murder of his teacher by Jade Fox.

Ang Lee may have romanticized Wang Du Lu's  story with a love angle between Yu Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai,  and Jen Yu and ‘Dark Cloud’ Lo but even if this takes up countless minutes of screen time,  the real connections are between the unnoticed masters,  friends and foes Yu Shu Lien, Jen Yu and Jade Fox.

Photo credits:

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: Peter Pau. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Cheng Pei Pei as Golden Swallow in  King Hu's Come Drink With Me (1966) (courtesy
© 2023 - Moira Jean Sullivan - Date: 02/21/23
Movie Magazine International