Tradition in the Far East

Essay by umkchell June 2004

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"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a movie that is a stunning, visual masterpiece. The story opens as the legendary swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) travels to visit Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). He's decided to give up his days as a warrior and he gives his sword, the Green Destiny, to Shu Lien. The legendary sword is eventually stolen by a masked figure, and Li Mu Bai & Shu Lien's frustrated romance becomes even more conflicted when they discover the secret of a young princess named Jen (Zhang Ziyi) and her lover Lo (Chang Chen). One premise the film is built upon concerns tradition through which director

Ang Lee uses film techniques to present this effect. Tradition is expressed through the ways Jen is oppressed by its confines, the relations between Jen and Lo that are repressed, and how Li Mu Bai is empowered by its guidance.

Tradition cleaves Jen from her fighting talents. Jen's parents force her to marry, but carry no parental role. Lee restricts their presence in the film, and so isolates the tradition they carry. Further, Lee contrasts Jen's behavior as a fighter with her conduct at her parents' home. The home's silent rooms, plain walls, and the servant's clothing are symbols of Jen's restricted future, for Jen is no fighter at home as 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 and 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...