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Film / Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonnote  is a Wuxia film, released in 2000, directed by Ang Lee, and starring Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen. It is based on the novel of the same name written by Wang Dulu, which was released as part of a pentalogy. It was the first wuxia film to gain widespread Western acclaim; it won many awards, including four Oscars, and opened the wuxia genre to huge new audiences.

A noble and well-known Wudang fighter, Li Mu Bai, decides to retire in 1778 after failing to catch his master's killer. Li's teacher was murdered by his own mistress, Jade Fox, who took revenge on him for refusing to teach her his art because she was a woman. Although Li's estranged Lady of War friend, Yu Shu Lien, tries to talk him out of it, he asks her to deliver his famed sword, the Green Destiny, to another trusted friend, Sir Te, so Li can leave his warrior past behind. Though believing only Li Mu Bai is worthy of the sword, Sir Te agrees to act as its caretaker. While Yu is staying with Sir Te, she meets a newly-arrived governor's headstrong daughter, the Rebellious Princess Jen, and they become close owing to Jen's fascination with Shu Lien's free warrior life. Shu Lien realizes that Jen resents her Arranged Marriage, longing to become a romantic adventurer like those of fairy tales.

However, a theft of the Green Destiny at night leads Shu Lien pursuing a masked assailant, and although the thief escapes with the sword, Yu comes across valuable information when she realizes that the thief is well-versed in the arts of Wudang. Li joins the investigation, and the two realize that Jade Fox had been posing as Jen's governess for a long time to avoid the authorities, including Inspector Tsai, who has been pursuing her in revenge for the death of his wife. Jade Fox challenges and kills Tsai in a secret showdown at night, but Li arrives and soundly defeats Jade Fox, who is saved only by the appearance of the thief, revealed to be Jen. Jen had, in fact, been the apprentice of Jade Fox, learning Wudang techniques from her, but Jade Fox quickly realizes that Jen had read the Wudang scriptures that Jade Fox, illiterate, had stolen, and surpassed the master in skill. Furthermore, a desert bandit who was once Jen's lover, Lo, arrives to disrupt her wedding.

And thus begins a chase of conflicting agendas and motivations: Li who wants to avenge his master's murder and pass his skills to the proper apprentice he sees in Jen; Shu Lien, who wants to steer Jen back onto the right path and end this investigation; Jade Fox, who wants to kill Li (and Jen out of jealousy for surpassing her); Lo, who wants to take Jen away and marry her; and Jen herself, who just wants to be free...

Netflix released a sequel called Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny on February 25, 2016.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the Trope Namer for:

"Crouching Tropes, Hidden Index":

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The Green Destiny can cut through just about anything with its supernatural sharpness, including thick wooden beams and much heavier iron weapons.
  • Action Girl: Jen and Shu Lien.
    • The film featured two of Hong Kong cinema's most famous Action Girls, Cheng Pei-Pei from the '60s and '70s (Jade Fox) and Michelle Yeoh from the '80s and '90s (Shu Lien), along with Zhang Ziyi (Jen), whom Ang Lee saw as a star of the future.
  • After-Action Healing Drama: After Li Mu Bai is poisoned.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Jade Fox, who was really an embittered old woman abandoned who felt betrayed by her protégé (Jen) at the end.
    • Ang Lee says in the commentary that this was a deliberate homage to the martial arts films he had grown up with, where "when the villain dies, you don't feel good."
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Though Lo is less of a bad boy and more of a Lovable Rogue who fell for Jen because of both her beauty and her utter refusal to bow down to him.
  • Ambiguous Ending: In the final scene of the film, Jen leaps off of a bridge at the top of Wudang Mountain, recalling a legend about a man who jumped off of a mountain to make his deepest wish come true—and because the man had a pure heart, he survived. It's left deliberately ambiguous whether the legend is true, and whether Jen lives or dies: the screen fades out as she's falling through the air.
  • Armed Legs: Jade Fox has a blade hidden in her shoe, which she tries to stab Li Mu Bai with during their duel. He simply snaps it off on the ground with his own foot.
  • Arranged Marriage: Jen is supposed to marry a high-class guy to further her dad's career. Her estranged lover Lo does not agree. (Of course, neither does she...)
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Girl: Jen fits in this trope to an extent, particularly in the latter half of the story. She has The Gift of the art of Wudang, uses it arrogantly, and treats a lot of people she meets as enemies. A rare example who is both female and a protagonist of sorts.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Jen was captivated by the stories of Li Mu Bai, Shu Lien and other warriors like them. However, she probably didn't expect that she would clash and fight against them.
  • Audible Sharpness: In several scenes early in the movie when the Green Destiny is being displayed, it makes a noticeable *shing* sound.
  • Badass Boast: Jade Fox gets off a good one.
    Jen: I had no one to guide me, no one to learn from.
    Jade Fox: Believe me, I've a lesson or two left to teach you! note 
  • Badass Normal: Lo did not have the mystical kung-fu powers of the main cast but he put on a good show anyway.
  • Battle Couple: Implied to be Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien, if they could ever get the couple part right.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Jen wants to run away from her Arranged Marriage and live a vagabond's life with her rebellious lover. She gets exactly that, at the cost of her family and Mu Bai's mentorship — not to mention his life. Breaking free of the system got her what she thought she wanted, but if she'd stayed and looked for loopholes in the society she lived in — Shu Lien's offer of official training — she might have been able to have both. Her family would have been proud to have a Wudang warrior as a daughter, but they obviously couldn't marry such a daughter off as a bargaining chip, as the only kind of man who'd be willing to live with a Wudang warrior would have been, well, a rebel.
  • Big Sister Mentor: Shu Lien to Jen.
  • Bittersweet Ending: After killing Jade Fox and avenging his master, Li Mu Bai dies of poisoning in Shu Lien's arms, finally confessing his love for her as they share a Last Kiss. On the other hand, Jen is finally free from her family, so she and Lo are ultimately reunited... Only for Jen to have to leap off the side of Wudang Mountain in order to make her and Lo's "wishes" come true. It's strongly implied that this is the only way they'll get to be happy together, considering all of Jen's transgressions.
  • Blade Run
  • Book Dumb: Jade Fox is illiterate. By just copying swordsmanship positions from the pictures rather than reading the texts, she never really learned how or why to fight in those styles. However, she still knows how to create different poisons, much to Li Mu Bai's dismay.
  • Broken Bird: Jen, and to a degree Shu Lien.
  • Butt-Monkey: Sir Te's man Bo makes every other fighter look more capable.
  • Carrying the Antidote: Averted by Jade Fox. Jen does know the recipe for the antidote, but concocting it ends up taking too much time to be of any help.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Very tragically played with Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien, who are clearly in love with each other but can't act on it because Shu Lien's deceased fiancé was Li Mu Bai's partner and best friend, and Mu Bai couldn't save his life. In fact, Sir Te lampshades the trope several times, urging Shu Lien (and Mu Bai as well) to just act on their mutual love.
  • Catch and Return: Jade Fox does this twice in her fight, firstly with a poison dart, and then with a deer horn knife.
  • Clean Cut: The Green Destiny, in the hands of the right wielder, can be drawn, cut pieces of iron in half, and sheathed again all in the one movement.
  • Combat Breakdown: Jen fights Shu Lien with the Green Destiny, with Shu Lien using a wide variety of different weapons against her as the sword whittles down everything she tries. Shu Lien still wins.
  • Combat Parkour: Jen Yu, most memorably in the restaurant scene. She uses backflips and rebounds off pillars and walls to evade and strike her opponents.
  • Cool Big Sis: Jen sees Shu Lien as this at first, even calling her "older sister."
  • Cool Sword: The Green Destiny, a four-hundred-year-old blade associated with the legendary Wudang warriors. It's covered in runes and made of some unknown magical metal.
  • Cover-Blowing Superpower: Jen catching a teacup (another character deliberately dropped it to make her reveal her skills).
  • Death by Adaptation: Li Mu Bai and (possibly) Jen. However both of their "death scenes" are vague enough for them to have survived.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Shu Lien's fiancé and Mu Bai's best friend, Meng Si Zhao, was killed in battle defending Mu Bai's life. However, for years, Shu Lien and Mu Bai refused to enter into a relationship, out of respect and honour for their friend and her fiancé. The possibility that he might have been pleased to have the two people dearest to him come together, after a respectable period of mourning, unfortunately never occurs to either.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jen. Maybe, as she was following an old legend that had previously been brought up.
  • Desert Bandits: Lo leads a very large gang that preys on the Han Dynasty's trade routes through the desert. He meets Jen when he raids her caravan, swipes her comb apparently for the heck of it, and then leads her on a merry chase through the desert.
  • Double-Meaning Title:
    • Jen's name in the Mandarin version is Jialong, which roughly translates to "scaled dragon", and Lo's original name is Xiaohu, which roughly translates to "little tiger". This makes the movie's name a Protagonist Title hinting at the real protagonists, who are introduced after the appearance of Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien, the Decoy Protagonists.
    • The title itself is drawn from a Chinese proverb describing unknown people of great talent. It is later revealed that Jen is secretly a talented martial artist.
    • Most of the protagonists also engage in secrecy to deal with personal matters. Lo makes a few appearances early in the film but does not properly reveal himself to the other characters until the film's midpoint; in addition, Jen pretends to be fine with her Arranged Marriage to Gou but is actually unhappy with her situation, which leads to her disguising herself and stealing the Green Destiny. Likewise, Mu Bai and Shu Lien privately have romantic feelings for each other, but they repress said feelings to avoid dishonoring the late Meng Si Zhao's memory.
  • Dramatic High Perching: The fight along the tops of the bamboo grove. Averted when Li Mu Bai lets himself fall so he can kick Jen's tree to knock her out of it.
  • Dub Name Change:
    • Jen is known as Yu Jiaolong in the original Mandarin, admittedly not a very feminine name to either market.
    • Lo was originally named Luo Xiaohu, and Sir Te was Bei Leye.
    • The name changes cause Western audiences to miss out on some subtext: the last character in "Jiaolong" is "dragon," and the last character in "Xiaohu" is "tiger."
  • Duel to the Death: This movie has a duel in which a father and daughter challenge an old villain who slew their wife/mother. Later, Jen, armed with the Green Destiny, fights Yu Shu Lien, armed with a variety of weapons, though the duel is not lethal.
  • Epic Movie: Fantasy style wuxia epic with a Hollywood flair. Biggest Chinese language film in the US.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Half the clientele of the restaurant turn out to be disciples of one kind or another. It doesn't help them at all.
  • Evil Mentor: Jade Fox, to Jen.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Tsai getting Impaled with Extreme Prejudice—in his forehead.
  • Faux Fluency: The dialogue is in Mandarin, but Michelle Yeoh had to learn her lines phonetically, as she grew up primarily speaking English and Malay. This could be why the film wasn't as well received in its native country as it was abroad.
  • Famed In-Story: Li Mu Bai.
  • Flynning: Any sword fight in the film.
  • Groin Attack: Averted. Jen tries to karate chop Lo, but he catches her hand.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Jen as the maiden, Shu Lien as the mother, and Jade Fox as the crone.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Jen, right before the end as Jade Fox dies and Li Mu Bai lies poisoned decides to help the heroes out.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Jade Fox gets killed by the pieces of her own shattered sword.
    • Tsai gets killed with one of his deer horn knives when he throws it at Jade Fox and she throws it into his head.
  • Holding Hands: When Mu Bai gets the closest to fully admitting his feelings, he takes Shu Lien's hand and gently presses it to his face, confessing that action took more courage than any battle.
  • Hong Kong Dub: Gloriously averted in the English dub, which completely matches the actors mouths to the point at which it seems like the actors actually did their lines in English. They did not. Ang Lee wins the Shown Their Work Award.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Li Mu Bai more or less holds back with Jen, despite her wielding the Green Destiny. He could take it anytime he likes (and does so!), but It's the Journey That Counts.
  • It's Personal: Policeman Tsai and his daughter challenge Jade Fox, after she had killed his wife and her mother.
  • Imperial China: A wuxia film, takes place in the Qing dynasty (complete with queues).
  • Improvised Weapon: Li Mu Bai can school you with a stick.
  • In a Single Bound: Characters regularly jump onto the top of buildings, trees, large walls, etc. in a single bound during fights.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Between Jen and Shu Lien.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: In and on a bamboo forest.
  • It's All About Me: Jen wants to live her life the way she wants without any regard to whom she hurts or what line she has to cross.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lo
  • Just Friends: Shu Lien and Mu Bai tried to invoke this, but eventually, their feelings for each other won out, if not before Mu Bai is fatally poisoned by Jade Fox.
  • Kneel Before Zod: "Bow to your teacher!"
  • Lady of War: Shu Lien, a graceful and dignified woman who is also a legendary warrior.
  • Last Kiss: Between Mu Bai and Shu Lien, before Mu Bai was about to die. Also doubles tragically as their First Kiss as well.
  • Legendary Weapon: The Green Destiny sword, an Absurdly Sharp Blade famously wielded by Li Mu Bai and which serves as a MacGuffin for much of the movie.
  • The Lightfooted: Trained martial artists showcase the ability to stand on the leaves of trees as if they weighed nothing.
  • Living Legend: Li Mu Bai is incredibly well known. In a negative fashion, so is the Jade Fox. Everyone knows or suspects who each is and responds to the reputation involved.
  • Lovable Rogue: Lo is the quintessential Lovable Rogue, a charming bandit king who steals from the rich and lives a carefree life in the desert.
  • Love at First Punch: Lo and Jen.
  • Magical Realism: As one reviewer put it: "You will believe a Chinese person can fly."
  • Martial Arts for Mundane Purposes: one of the protagonists comments on the princess' calligraphy skills, comparing it to swordplay. She tries to act dumb, but her secret martial arts skill is clearly out. Tiny anvils begin to rain as she goes on to comment on how her name looks like "sword".
  • Master Swordsman: Li Mu Bai, of course. He demonstrates the superiority of his technique to Jen using a twig at one point.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Jen and Lo.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • It's never one hundred percent clear whether the Green Destiny is a truly mystical weapon which made Jen extremely powerful or if Jen was simply just that good to begin with and the sword only acted as a placebo effect to increase her confidence and enhance her already-prodigious skills.
    • It's left intentionally ambiguous whether the legend about the man leaping off of a mountain—and surviving due to his pure heart—is actually true. When Jen leaps off of the bridge in the final scene, it's strongly implied that she's chosen to commit suicide to atone for her many mistakes...but considering how many ambiguously supernatural things happen in the film, you have to wonder.
  • Memetic Badass: Li Mu Bai, In-Universe example.
  • Moment Killer: After Shu Lien apologises to Mu Bai for being unable to stop the thief from stealing the Green Destiny, believing that was the reason why Mu Bai had come to her, he quietly replies that he had came here for another reason, before he knew the sword was stolen. He was about to say something to her (presumably about his feelings towards her), when a servant enters, interrupting the moment.
  • Motive Rant: Jade Fox tells Jen that the priests of Wudang are womanizers and would not let a woman learn the art of Wushu.
  • Mundane MacGuffin Person: Jen is the governor's daughter and her parents scour the earth for her after Lo "kidnaps" her.
  • Mysterious Protector: Lo, at some point.
  • Named Weapons: The Green Destiny.
  • Ninja: The thief of the Green Destiny. Another character is also briefly one, though he was quickly caught and unmasked.
  • Nonchalant Dodge: Li Mu Bai does this while "training" Jen.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent:
    • The producers tried to have the cast speak with the same accent, but since each of the four main actors had a different one (Cantonese, Malaysian, Taiwanese, and Beijing-regional), they decided to give it up as a bad job. Some members of the Chinese audience were not impressed.
    • On a semi-related note, Lo is implied to be from one of the Turkic-speaking ethnic groups of northwest China (as indicated by the song he sings to Jen in the cave), but his actor Chang Chen doesn't even bother to hide his Taiwanese accent.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Jen fights Li Mu Bai at the temple, he easily deflects her attacks. When he actually draws the Green Destiny, she just yelps and flees.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: Jen at the restaurant:
    Jen: Steamed whole cod, bite-size meatballs, a little starchy, but keep the sauce light, shark fin soup, mixed vegetables, and some warm wine.
    Waiter: I have to order from a bigger restaurant.
    Jen: Hurry then.
  • Plot Device: The Green Destiny a Named Weapon, without which, the plot could not have moved forward and forces the characters to act to get it back.
  • Poisoned Weapons: Jade Fox specialized in this, using it to kill Mu Bai's master and eventually Mu Bai himself.
  • Razor Wind
  • Rebellious Princess: Jen, an aristocrat who repeatedly runs away to follow her dreams and become a martial arts master.
  • Revealing Skill: Shu Lien suspected that the governor's daughter Jen was more than she claimed to be, and had martial arts training. Shu Lien confirmed these suspicions by deliberately dropping a tea cup — Jen caught it in midair and returned it to the table, without spilling a single drop.
  • Roof Hopping: Shu Lien chases the mysterious thief of the Green Destiny over rooftops.
  • Rule of Two: Subverted. The apprentice (Jen) was a more skilled combatant than the Master (Jade Fox), but the Master was more treacherous.
  • Runaway Bride: Jen runs away from her family and husband the day after she gets married.
  • Scenery Porn: The bamboo forest. The deserts and mountains of Xinjiang. The Temple of Wudang Mountain (a real life temple stand-in!)
  • The Shangri-La: The Temple of Wudang Mountain, where Li Mu Bai learned the deepest secrets.
  • She-Fu: Jen. There's a flashback where she's fighting Lo before she learns most of her skills seen later, and despite having learned some martial arts already, she's not very effective.
  • Shipper on Deck: Sir Te has implied that Shu Lien and Mu Bai should just get together.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Green Destiny and Li Mu Bai himself.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Jen and Lo start their relationship by trying to kill each other. Their first kiss was during another fight they were having.
  • Sore Loser: Happens repeatedly with Jen. When Shu Lien bests her in combat but spares her life, Jen responds by petulantly slashing Shu Lien's arm. When she agrees to let Li Mu Bai train her if he can take the Green Destiny from her in three moves, and he does it in one, she immediately goes back on her word. Whether these are because she can't stand losing in general, or can't stand losing the sword specifically, isn't entirely clear.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Of Good, actually; Jen and Jade Fox spend most of the first act fighting the good guys in roughly ascending order of their skill, though Mu Bai wrecks the order.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the good ending of the GBA version, Li Mu Bai survives.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Lo disagrees like whoa! (Attacks with knives. While shouting. A lot.)
  • Stacked Characters Poster: The movie poster has the three main characters in a rough pyramid formation.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien, Jen and Lo. The first couple don't get together, the second do. To a point. (See Bittersweet Ending.)
  • Straw Feminist: Jade Fox. She basically comes off as a low-level misandrist after Li Mu Bai's teacher refused to actually teach her, since apparently women can't train at Wudang. It seems, however, that Shu Lien is at least somewhat Wudang experienced as well, as she is the only character other than Mu Bai that can defeat Jen. She can also do the gravity defying Wire Fu that only people that learned at / stole technique books from Wudang can do. More concretely, Mu Bai says that for Jen, they would surely make an exception, and he (literally) fights to get her to be his student. Maybe Mu Bai's teacher saw that Jade Fox was less than scrupulous, rather than just passing her over due to sex. Seems like sour grapes on her part. Or maybe that's really why she wanted to kill Jen, instead of the fact that she hid her skill and kept Fox from improving.
    • Jade Fox states that Jen was her true enemy.
      Jade Fox: (after poisoning Li Mu Bai) You deserve to die, but the life I was hoping to take was Jen's. Ten years I devoted to you, but you deceived me! You hid the manual's true meaning. I never improved but your progress was limitless. You know what poison is? An eight year-old girl full of deceit. That's poison!
  • Stargazing Scene: After Jen and Lo's love scene, they spend an intimate moment gazing at the stars in a hot spring, while Lo recounts his childhood.
  • Stock Wushu Weapons: During the famous mansion duel between Shu Lien and Jen, the former shows off her skills with an enormous number of wushu weapons against Jen's Green Destiny, pitting sheer skill and versability against one powerful sword able to cut through anything.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: the spiritual training that Li Mu Bai, Jen, and Shu Lien all went through gives them the power to jump incredible distances and more or less fly.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: After her wedding, Jen runs away dressed as a man and joins some sort of armed group.
  • Thunderbolt Iron: The Green Destiny is "made out of no ordinary metal..." using a technique which was lost centuries ago.
  • The Time of Legends: Nominally set in 1778, the time of the American Revolution, but people can fly and no one bats an eye.
  • Tree Buchet: Shows up during the bamboo forest fight.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Jen responds only with contempt and betrayal to anyone who helps her or call her out on it: Shu Lien, Li Mu Bai, her parents, and Jade Fox. It is only after Jade Fox tries to kill her and ends up killing Mu Bai that it finally sinks it, but by then it is too late.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: There is one between Shu Lien and Mu Bai. Shu Lien was once married to Meng Si Zhao, who was a brother to Mu Bai by oath. After Meng died, Mu Bai and Shu Lien developed feelings for each other but try to hide them for the sake of the late Meng Si Zhao. It will stay unresolved after Mu Bai's untimely death.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Jade Fox is almost killed by Li Mu Bai, but escapes the legendary warrior — who is capable of Roof Hopping to the point of flight — by jumping over a wall. And he just lets her get away. Justified, Li Mu Bai wanted to steal her apprentice, if he'd pursued he probably would have had to kill them both. Even killing Jade Fox would kill any chances of getting the apprentice.
  • Villain Forgot to Level Grind: Although Jade Fox stole the Wudang 'secrets', Jen Yu is the one who learned from them and didn't share it with her master. Jade Fox was aware of this when seeing the fight between Li Mu Bai and her apprentice Jen Yu when she was able to give him more of a fight than herself, thus she tries to kill her apprentice near the end. This is justified as Jade Fox stole the instruction book but Never Learned to Read.
  • Villain Has a Point: It may not excuse her actions, but it's hard to blame Jade Fox for being angry that she was considered good enough to sleep with but not to teach.
  • Waif-Fu: Jen.
  • Walk on Water: Jen and Li Mu Bai do this towards the end.
  • Wall Jump: All through the movie.
  • Wall of Weapons: Yu Shu Lien uses a Wall of Weapons to try to defeat Jen Yu who wields the legendary sword The Green Destiny.
  • Warrior Therapist: Both Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Mu Bai insists he no longer needs the Green Destiny, but when reunited with it halfway through the film, he's surprised to admit that yes, he and the Destiny are a part of each other.
  • Wire Fu: The movie is full of extended fight scenes that take place more or less midair, such as one on top of a bamboo forest. The characters make impossibly slow and large jumps; all of this was done with wires.
  • Wok Fu: There's a massive scene like this, when Jen fights a huge number of people in a teahouse.
  • Wuxia: One of the most known examples in the West.
  • You Killed My Mother: Tsai and his daughter May are pursuing Jade Fox partly because she killed Tsai's wife/May's mother.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Invoked by Jade Fox after shooting a poison dart into Li Mu Bai.