"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon": The Duel Effect of Tradition

Essay by theamazingred1 March 2006

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In 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', tradition oppresses individuals and their relationships, yet it also empowers. Jen is oppressed by the confines of tradition, and her traditional role as a female oppresses her relationship with Lo. Li Mu Bai, however, is empowered by the guidance of tradition. Ang Lee uses film techniques to present this dual affect.

Tradition cleaves Jen from her fighting talents. Jen's parents force her to marry, but have no parental role; Lee restricts their presence in the film, and so isolates the tradition they carry. Hence Lee conveys that tradition oppresses Jen because it is an unhuman law passed by unhuman parents. Further, Lee contrasts Jen's behaviour as a fighter with her behaviour at her parents' home, a motif of tradition. The home's silent rooms, plain walls, and the heavy servant's clothing are symbols of Jen's restricted future, for Jen is no fighter at home--she writes calligraphy and drinks tea.

Lee captures such contrast to suggest that tradition oppresses Jen because it confines her. But Jen breaks these confines: in place of her family, she adopts Jade Fox as her mother and Shu Lin as her sister, in place of her home, she escapes to the desert with Lo. In the vast red and orange desert, where there are no confines, Jen fights; her flying-style suggests Jen is defying the gravity of tradition. In the love scene, Lo removes Jen's oppression when he removes her traditional clothing, the exposed skin symbolises Jen's freedom, her "true happiness". She also lets her hair out and wears Lo's clothing, symbolic of her discard of tradition. Hence Lee uses the change in Jen's character, in her decision to reject tradition, as a means of highlighting the extent of her oppression at home.

The feminine order of tradition becomes a...