"Love Triumphs over Enlightenment"

Content: -2 Discretion advised for adults.

What You Need To Know:

With CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, director Ang Lee, of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY fame, tackles the mythic martial arts genre so famous in China. Set in the Qing dynasty, the movie opens with the famous Wudan fighter Li Bu Bai telling Lady Shu Lien that he is giving up fighting and the Green Destiny sword. Li asks Shu Lien to take the sword to Sir Te. At Sir Te’s home, Governor Yu arrives to marry off his daughter En. A thief, presumed to be the Jade Fox, steals the famous sword, flying from rooftop to rooftop and executing incredible martial arts moves. Master Li and Shu Lien must recover the sword. In the process, love triumphs over enlightenment.

Although there is much martial arts fighting, there’s very little bloodshed, and the movie is more of a martial arts ballet than a kung-fu film. It explores the mythic themes of love and enlightenment, family and duty, morals and revenge. Eastern mysticism is refuted by the romantic plotline. An ardent Taoist would be upset that love is given prominence over self- realization. There is only one obscene word, but, regrettably, there are two relatively discreet love scenes


(RoRo, FRFR, BB, L, VV, S, N) Romantic worldview with strong Eastern religious elements as well as strong moral considerations with a pointed emphasis on family, true love, virtue, & observing the rules for one’s own good; 1 obscenity; lots of martial arts action violence but very little blood or consequences, though there are terrific swordfights, martial arts fights over rooftops & in treetops, balletic fighting, a few wounds, a few killings & a woman jumps off mountain to fulfill legend but not gory or bloody; fornication & foreplay while clothed or covered; revealing dress & situations; and, evil witch & dualism.

More Detail:

Director Ang Lee is a consummate storyteller. His RIDE WITH THE DEVIL is one of the best portraits of the American Civil War, and his SENSE AND SENSIBILITY is a masterpiece about English manners.

With CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, Lee tackles the mythic Eastern martial arts genre. This is not, however, a “blood and guts” Kung-Fu movie; rather, it is an incredible visual masterpiece and martial arts ballet in the tradition of the Chinese classic TOUCH OF ZEN. In fact, the martial arts scenes of fighting on rooftops and on the tops of gigantic trees brought applause from the tough crowd at the Cannes Film Festival screening. As the Hollywood Reporter noted, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON has “action sequences that make THE MATRIX seem downright quaint by comparison.”

Set in the early 19th Century, during the last days of the mighty Qing dynasty, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON opens with a fabulous, though lonely, establishing shot of a Chinese estate and a servant crying out that Master Li (Chow Yun-Fat) has come home. The movie follows a succession of servants through the house until finally a servant reaches the lady of the house, Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), with the good news that Li Bu Bai, the famous Wudan fighter, is back. Shu Lien and Li have loved each other for years, but their martial arts discipline and their past prevents them from telling each other of their mutual love. Shu Lien inherited her father’s bodyguard service, which protects merchants from the marauding bandits who roam the Chinese countryside.

Li tells Shu Lien that, while he was training to be a Wudan fighter, he experienced true enlightenment. However, unlike the Taoist masters, his enlightenment did not just focus on the glow of transcendence but rather convicted him that he lived in a troubled world. Therefore, he has decided to give up fighting as well as his famous Green Destiny sword. He asks Shu Lien to take the sword to a friend, Sir Te, in Peking.

As Shu Lien arrives at Sir Te’s home, Governor Yu arrives from the Western provinces with his daughter En, who has been promised in marriage to a wealthy suitor. En tells Shu Lien that she envies Shu Lien’s exciting life and her freedom. Shu Lien says that martial arts fighters have rules also, and they have to stick to the rules if they want to survive. Shu Lien clearly longs to be married to Li and envies En.

That night, a ninja thief steals the Green Destiny sword. The thief is an incredible martial arts practitioner who dispenses legions of Sir Te’s guards, climbs up the sides of buildings, jumps from roof to roof, and executes incredible martial arts moves. Shu Lien engages the thief, but eventually the thief gets away. It is assumed that the thief is the Jade Fox.

Later, it is revealed that the Jade Fox is En’s mistress-in-waiting. The Jade Fox wanted to be a Wudan fighter, but was not accepted because she was a woman. She killed Master Li’s Wudan master because he would sleep with her but not teach her martial arts. The Jade Fox taught En Wudan fighting, but En has hidden from the Jade Fox the fact that En has become a much better Wudan fighter and understands the Wudan teaching. When En finally reveals this to the Jade Fox, the Jade Fox is consumed by hate.

In the midst of this story, there’s a flashback of En traveling with her family to the western provinces where her father will govern and meeting a dashing, young, romantic bandit, with whom she falls in love. Back in the present, the bandit comes to Peking to stop her from getting married.

In time, Shu Lien realizes that En, not the Jade Fox, has stolen the Green Destiny sword. Master Li joins with Shu Lien to solve the mystery and recover the sword. Regrettably, in an impressive battle, he is poisoned by the Jade Fox. As he is dying, Shu Lien tells him to think of eternity and enlightenment, but Li tells Shu Lien that he loves her and would rather spend eternity as a ghost by her side than in heaven. Thus, love triumphs over enlightenment. The story then continues to resolve the issue of En and her beloved bandit.

Although there is much martial arts fighting here, there’s very little bloodshed and very little killing. This movie is more of a martial arts ballet than a kung-fu film. It touches on the mythic themes of love and enlightenment, family and duty, morals and revenge, all investigated from a moral perspective. Eastern mysticism is present throughout, but it’s diminished and even refuted by the romantic storyline. Any enlightened Taoist or Buddhist master would be very upset that love is given prominence over self-realization.

There is only one obscene word, but, in the relationship with the bandit leader, there are two love scenes. Relatively modest by Hollywood standards, they still entail fornication out of wedlock. Also, regrettably, at the end of the movie, En decides to try to fulfill a legend which says that if you jump off a certain mountain, your wish will be fulfilled. If it were not for these aspects, the movie would be suitable for older teenagers.

As it is, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON got a rave reception at Cannes, but there’s a question whether American audiences will flock to a historical Chinese, martial arts movie.

Want more content like this? Make a donation to Movieguide®