Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Movie Analysis Example
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The independent film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is one that has gained a great deal of acclaim. It has become the highest-grossing foreign-language film in the United States, also winning over 40 awards, including three in the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards for independent films. It has also allowed other Chinese films to become popular in the United States, which has allowed films such as “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers” to enter the mainstream in America.
There are many implications of social issues that are approached in this film. There is an underrepresentation of Chinese people in cinema. Chinese people, and particularly Chinese women in these types of movies are misrepresented as well. Furthermore, there are social issues and genre conventions that are challenged and reinforced in this film.
Less particular to this film is the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Chinese men in contemporary cinema. This is notably not less significant to that of Chinese women; however Chinese women, as we will see, challenge previous misconceptions, which is more particular to this film. However, it is important to stop and take a look at the misrepresentation and underrepresentation of Chinese men in film.
The first part to this is the underrepresentation of Chinese men in film, which will be later coupled with their misrepresentation. It is quite easy to see in cinema that Chinese men are underrepresented. In fact, the underrepresentation of Chinese men is linked to that of the film’s genre, in which Chinese men are normally seen. However, outside of this genre, it is not common to see Chinese men in films.
Quite simply, Chinese men are not seen in many movies. Mainstream films and contemporary cinema do not make abundant use of Chinese men on the screen. It would probably be fair to say that Chinese men are behind those who are Caucasian or African-American. Chinese men are likely close to Hispanic men within prominence of appearance in films.
There is a further dynamic to the underrepresentation of Chinese men in films. Chinese men in the vast majority of films are seen, especially when the cast includes a primary character who is Chinese or a cast with multiple Chinese men, within the context of a particular genre. Films depicting martial arts in some aspect, whether it is a drama, comedy, or historically based, represent overwhelmingly Chinese men.
Taking a look at popular Chinese actors, this dynamic is easy to see. Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, and Stephen Chow represent some of the most popular Chinese actors in modern cinema, who are certainly connected to martial arts movies. Even if we take historical tendencies, such as that of Bruce Lee’s popularity in previous decades, we find truth in this tendency.
Movies that are central to the current box office are seen along these guidelines. That is, even when a movie that has a high level of popularity in which a Chinese actor plays a large role, this also is seen along the realm of martial arts movies, at least on a common basis. For instance, if we take the hit “Rush Hour,” as well as its sequels, we can see this dynamic. Featuring Jackie Chan alongside Chris Tucker in all three movies, it represents Chinese men in the role of a “martial arts specialist” of sorts. Even though the film is an action-comedy, Jackie Chan still represents Chinese men along the background of martial arts. Notably, this series of films reinforces a number of Chinese stereotypes, such as the incoherence of speech and other Asian stereotypes, although this is not relevant to the present analysis.
Chinese men are also misrepresented in other ways. For instance, Chinese men are often portrayed as quiet and serious men. Although this is often connected again to their role in martial arts movies, it is present in other areas. For instance, returning again to the “Rush Hour” series, Jackie Chan is not portrayed as one capable of producing comedic elements, although the film consists of large quantities of comedic elements. In fact, the character of Chris Tucker is often used to set up Jackie Chan into saying something funny, which again often uses negative stereotypes. While this represents one instance in mainstream cinema (notably Chan’s “Shanghai” series utilizes similar dynamics), there are not many examples from which to analyze, as again, popular movies featuring Chinese men (or women) are not that abundant.
As a result, Chinese men are often portrayed along martial arts undertones primarily in films. This underrepresentation leads to misrepresentation in cinema, where Chinese men are often portrayed in certain manners. It even finds its way into children’s movies, depicting Chinese men both areas in a film such as “Kung Fu Panda.”
More particular to the current film is the role of Chinese women. Chinese women are arguably more underrepresented in contemporary films. There are also implications upon this in the misrepresentation of Chinese women in films, in regards to the normal roles of Chinese women.
Chinese women are significantly underrepresented in film. This is more developed than that of the underrepresentation of Chinese men. There are quite few, if any, examples of popular films starring Chinese actresses.
This development is perhaps most significant to the underrepresentation of female actresses in any ethnic group. Chinese women are certainly more underrepresented than Caucasian or African-American actresses. Also, due to the lack of immensely popular Chinese actresses in mainstream cinema (as opposed to Chinese men), and a number of popular Hispanic actresses (such as Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, and Jennifer Lopez), Chinese women are perhaps most underrepresented of the genders in the four major ethnic categories.
The lack of presence of Chinese women in films perhaps contributes to their misrepresentation. However, Chinese women are often portrayed as objects, and not independently charged women. In other words, Chinese women are often utilized in film, rather than portraying that of a primary and independent character. This is something that we will see both of in regards to the current film.
Stereotypes in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
Stereotypes in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” are both challenged and reinforced in particular ways. In particular, the previous discussion of gender will be referenced especially, although it has certainly already found relevance in itself for the film, in regards to the underrepresentation of Chinese men and women. However, the film fails in many regards to challenge typical elements in the genre of martial arts movies, connected to the plot, gender roles, and further implications in the film.
Although the film fared quite well with critical reviews in the United States, fans in China did not regard the film as highly as those in the United States, in regards to typical genre conventions. The flying that took place in the movie is regarded as out of place, where it drew from films in Hong Kong without its humor and other elements. As a result, it was regarded as inauthentic in this and in other ways.
As a result the film is seen to reinforce certain stereotypes within the genre. As stated previously, it has ill-taken a part of Hong Kong cinema and misplaced it into the film. The elements of fighting were also not highly regarded, which were used to fill the movie without it being well-done, as many have noted it pales in comparison to those that are more authentic. The genre stereotypes it conveys has further implications in the character, plot, story, and mise-en-scene of the film.
With reference to the previous discussions of the depictions of Chinese men in cinema, the film is seen to reinforce gender stereotypes. Chang Chen and Chow Yun-Fat are depicted in the same guidelines of the martial arts genre, as men of different yet similar military tact, one an accomplished swordsman and the other a bandit. The background to each main character is nothing unique to martial arts, and hence mainstream cinema.
With respect to these men in the film, male Chinese stereotypes are further reinforced. These men are seen as driven and strong men. There are notably no traces of comedy in the men. They are portrayed and reinforced in that of typical martial arts film, in their drive and preoccupation with matters of honor.
The two primary female characters, however, challenge stereotypes of Chinese women in martial arts films. Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi are portrayed against the grain of female Chinese characters is such films. Notably, they challenge these stereotypes in different manners.
The character of Michelle Yeoh is drastically opposed to common stereotypes of Chinese women in film, and especially in that of martial arts films. She plays a female warrior, which is not commonly seen in a martial arts film, unless it is a movie specifically regarding that (often as a “novelty” film of sorts). Her character is remarkably driven and headstrong, which is quite uncommon for Chinese women in cinema.
The character of Zhang Ziyi is also opposed to common female stereotypes. Although she plays a character who is soon to be married (an arranged married) to an aristocrat, this is not found in her character. She is seeking adventure, and finds awe in the character of Michelle Yeoh; later she is revealed as a thief and proficient in combat. The nature of her character and martial arts skills certainly combat typical depictions of Chinese women in film.
Other Film Dynamics
The remaining dynamics of the film can be analyzed together in the conveying of similar stereotypical information. The plot and story of the film fall along the same lines as others in the genre. Additionally, mise-en-scene helps to support the similar undertones of the plot and story of the film.
The plot and story of the film help to reinforce the stereotypes of the genre. Additionally, they reinforce the stereotypes that have been reinforced and challenged in the characters, much in the way of genders. The plot of the film is not very unique to that of martial arts films, where there is a special and mystical item that is lost. The epic story and undertones of the film also largely play into the typical genre conventions of the film.
Mise-en-scene also helps to convey typical conventions within the film’s story, plot, and genre. For instance, the mystical nature of the sword (the mystical item referenced earlier) and the movement of the characters, as they fly in scenes of battle, are used to help create the picturesque nature and drama of the film, hoping to captivate audiences. It is also relevant in the upholding of social standards, such as in the character of Zhang Ziyi, who is surrounded by those who want her to marry the aristocrat; the scene in her calligraphy room is an excellent illustration of the cinematography, design, and other elements of mise-en-scene that are present.
Although not in a particularly explicit manner, the film explores the expectancies of the character of Zhang Ziyi. She is expected to marry the aristocrat, to those who do not know of her true identity. When she expresses negative emotions to these expectancies, the film reveals the expected nature of her life, to which she experiences pressure.
The film sees the issue of arranged marriage, from the perspective of the woman. The character expresses some of her doubts to those around her, trying to make sense of her situation and if she should go through with the marriage. In these doubts, the character, apart from her real identity, expresses her desires to become a warrior. In general, she wants to have a more adventurous life.
The character finds little prospect of an exciting life in that of a wife. She does not want to carry the burden of these roles for the rest of her life. She also has no desire to marry someone who she does not truly love. In these issues, the character of Zhang Ziyi expresses her unhappiness with what is to occur.
In these elements within the film, the film tackles some of these points from the issue of arranged marriages. It also addresses the wishes of an individual in a society (at least in the way it is perceived) that is not tolerant. Thus, the character finds complications in her life.
The film addresses the issue of honor in Chinese culture. In a culture that is heavily influenced on honor, we see the character of Zhang Ziyi in this discussion as well. After the character of Chow Yun-Fat discovers she is a thief, and still wishes to train her, she initially refuses quite violently. However, in the end she tries to save his life, after learning of honor in her life towards him, although she tragically fails to do this.
Thus the character is caught in the midst of two issues in which the film addresses. She is caught between the social issue of marriage, to which her false identify is found, although she expresses her real emotions. Additionally, she progresses in that of true honor, which the film more explicitly approaches.
The film does not return to normalcy at the end of the movie. We see the character of Zhang Ziyi ending her life in a tragic manner, after the death of the character of Chow Yun-Fat. It is actually one of mystical proportions, as she jumps off a cliff, although from earlier mystic implications, it is not the end of her life. However, the film sees the resolve of the complex situations that occur in the society in which the film addresses.
Zhang Ziyi’s character arc is one of particular mentioning. In regards to her development within the course of the film, it is significant to the meaning of the film. The underlying tones and themes of the film are expressed in many ways in part to this character, who undergoes many transformations in the film. Her character is seen as having certain viewpoints that certainly change in her interactions and events as they unfold.
Most prominent is the character’s resulting influence from those who are trying to capture her. The character of Chow Yun-Fat is trying to pursue her, along with the character of Michelle Yeoh. In these events she becomes increasingly receptive of their advancements for a better life for her, whether or not she immediately comes to terms with them.
The two characters of her pursuers increasingly show her respect. Not wishing to create a complicated situation from their knowledge of her stealing the sword, they show her respect and give her time to return the sword. This turns into the character of Chow Yun-Fat wanting to train her, as he notices her high level of martial arts skill.
Thus the character of Zhang Ziyi undergoes a transformation throughout the film. While she never seems to let go of adventure in her life, she becomes receptive to their efforts in the late part of the film. This drastically changes her stance throughout most of the film, to which he does not display respect, and is violent towards at times.
The meaning of the actual title of the film refers to hiding one’s strength from others. We see this in Zhang Ziyi’s character, to which she hides her identity and feelings from those within her false and real identity. For instance, she hides her true strength from those around her who expect her to marry. She also hides her feelings towards the other main characters who show her respect. Tragically, when she reveals her inner strength to save the character of Chow Yun-Fat’s life, it is too late, to which she responds by jumping off of the cliff.
Especially within the character of Zhang Ziyi, she as one of the main characters becomes entangled in her character arc. She is confused in her life and quite static when she could have changed her life in any direction. As a result, her character arc impacts every part of the film, such as the killing of other rebels and of the character of Chow Yun-Fat. Her character significantly adds to the overriding dramatic and tragic features of the film, to which her character influences greatly.
All of the main characters in the movie represent Chinese actors and actresses who are underrepresented. They also take on the misrepresentations of these characters in contemporary cinema, as previously mentioned. However, as discussed earlier, the main characters in this film do diverge from stereotypes perpetuated of Chinese figures in movies, importantly.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” perpetuates a number of significant stereotypes and genre conventions in contemporary cinema. Notably the representation of Chinese actors and actresses is seen along familiar lines. Also are the characterizations of the film’s martial arts elements, such as present in the story, plot, miss-en-scene, and additionally in the stereotypes of Chinese actors and actresses.
However, the film does break some barriers in regards to stereotypes. The character arc of Zhang Ziyi is home to the challenging of many stereotypes of gender, genre, and furthermore. This character becomes entangled in the films events and dynamics, which serves as a source of the tragedy and drama of the movie.
While the film successfully breaks some stereotypes, it perpetuates many more elements. The genre of martial arts movies is seen in this film, with similar character depictions, plot and story elements, and complementary mise-en-scene elements. Even when it breaks these stereotypes, the movie plays out according to most other martial arts movies, with all too familiar fighting scenes, with little originality. However, the film represents a gateway of Chinese-based films in the United States, which may see Chinese actors and actresses increase in scope.
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