Swords fighting at its best in the top of a bamboo tree
Do you like sword fighting scenes in movies? There was a time when I didn’t. I thought of them as boring fillers, like most of the car chases. Something you patiently waited for to be over so the plot could move along.
This was before I picked up training Japanese swords art, iaido. Nowadays I’m always up for movie fights, whether it’s elegant fencing or brutal bashing with heavy two hand swords. If it’s good, it’s as graceful and enjoyable to watch as a ballet. And if it’s bad, I can feel smug about it, thinking that the people who made that movie apparently are clueless.
With my newborn interest for this form of martial arts, I finally got around to catch up with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, more than a decade after everyone else.
I couldn’t really have wished for anything more beautiful in the terms of fighting. Take that scene in the top of a bamboo tree, smoothly bending from side to side under the weight of the antagonists with soft flute and violin in the background. From an action standpoint it’s maybe not all that exciting, but it will stay in my memory as one of the coolest pieces of sword fighting I’ve ever seen.
However, what surprised me most wasn’t the fighting. It was all the other stuff. For some reason I had assumed that this film would contain more or less non-stop fighting. If there was a plot and character development, it would just serve as a means to transport us from one arena to the next.
In the very start it seemed as if I would be right. Here they were, making a hullabaloo about a certain super fantastic legendary sword. And there came the thief who stole it, and the next moment they were fighting. I thought: “so this is what it’s going to be like. They’ll fight about that sword all through the movie. The different warlords are going to settle who’s in charge.”
But then the movie started to twist. And it twisted again, because this wasn’t following the standard model for how you tell a story, at least not in the part of the world where I live. Before I knew it, it had turned into a love story. Or rather two love stories, to be correct. That wasn’t quite what I had expected. But I like to be surprised, so I didn’t mind.
Holding up well
As I said, it’s been a few years since this movie came out and you might wonder how well it hold up for a first-time watcher. Pretty well, I’d say.
Of course there has been a technical development the last few years and I imagine it could be possible to make the flying in the air look a little bit more believable. But again: it’s supposed to be over-the-top anyway, so the silliness of it isn’t a huge problem anyway.
What still makes it work for me is the beautiful cinematography and how it makes swords fighting into poetry rather than horror and gore. Especially the closing shot, which I won’t reveal in case there is someone more who has managed to miss out this movie, will stay with me forever. And of course I adored the bad ass female sword fighters, who seemed to grow stronger and better as they aged. That’s something to take inspiration from!
My biggest regret is that I watched it on a small screen at home. I think it’s one of those movies that gain a lot from a bigger format. Here’s to that I can persuade my local film club to including it in one of their future programs.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long, Ang Lee, TW, 2000) My rating: 4/5