Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (fight 5 of 6)

Show-stopper.

oh em gee

5) Yu Shu Lien vs Jen Yu (round two)

The Fighters:

  • Yu Shu Lien. Played by Michelle Yeoh.
    • Armed with: a Dao (saber that can be split into two smaller blades), a spear, dual hook swords, a metal club, and a broad sword. In that order. She also grabs a huge Monk’s Spade at one point but it turns out to be too heavy for her to lift.
  • Jen Yu. Played by Zhang Ziyi.
    • Armed with: the Green Destiny.

The Setup: Turns out life’s not so fun for a young runaway leaving all she knew behind, and after her awesome adventures at the inn full of kung fu idiots, Jen goes running to her “big sister” Yu Shu Lien at her local… headquarters? Dojo? Safe house? Anyway she’s there awaiting the arrival of Li Mu Bai, who will be “sleeping over,” wink wink nudge nudge.

After some polite talk, Shu Lien tells her to go to Wudan Mountain, where her and Mu Bai have secretly hidden dragon Lo, Jen’s bandit ex-boyfriend. The news of these two pulling strings behind her back shocks Jen and she lashes out, once again wary of people manipulating & controlling her. At this point Shu Lien, who was really only trying to help, has had about enough of the young lady’s attitude, and fires back angrily, demanding the sword. Jen tries to storm out, but the older woman stops her in the open gym area, telling everyone else in the household to leave… and lock the doors.

There’s more to this upcoming throwdown than just reclaiming the sword and Jen’s snit, though. Jen is angry not just at Shu Lien but at everyone in her life who’s been pressuring her, and is also eager to prove herself. Shu Lien’s long-simmering feelings for Li Mu Bai (which are mutual, but they’ve denied themselves each other out of respect to her old fiancee dying to save LMB) have led to jealousy over the attention he’s been showing to this troublesome girl. These women are frustrated all over about the freedom they’ve long been denied, and that frustration is about to explode like dynamite. Awesome, sexy dynamite.

The Fight: is amazing. This is generally considered the centerpiece of the movie– it’s the scene all over the ads, promotional artwork and even the DVD menus– and it’s easy to see why.

Though both combatants are trying much harder than in their previous fight, the power balance is still roughly the same: Jen is flashy and talented but ultimately can’t hold against Shu Lien’s determination and years of experience. The only difference now is the weapons: Yu Shu Lien basically becomes a one-woman armory in the fight against Jen, or more accurately against Jen and the invincible Green Destiny. The veteran warrior grabs weapon after weapon to use against the legendary sword, and even though she fights excellently, each new implement eventually breaks against the blade’s might. (It’s clear that Shu Lien still could beat Jen, if she saw her as an enemy rather than a rival or annoyance and genuinely wanted to kill her. She had chances.)

“Want a free nose job?”

This of course presents opportunity for a marvelous amount of variety, especially for a two-person battle, and Yuen Wo Ping clearly had a blast plotting it out. Each new weapon that’s introduced slightly modifies the fighting style and picks up the overall pace. Ang Lee’s camera jumps around giddily, framing the combatants from up close, far away, and even overhead… but never confusingly, and always with an emphasis on the action rather than the camerawork itself.

For once, Tan Dun’s music is not terribly noteworthy but it’s still fun and serviceable, accenting the scene appropriately; my personal favorite touch is the deep bass and strings that play up when Shu Lien brings her broadsword into frame. The sound design is tops, perfectly selling every single clash of blades and leaping whoosh.

Like this one.

Later on, Shu Lien gives voice to what the audience is thinking: “Without Green Destiny, you are nothing.” Jen, ever the brat, of course dismisses the barb with unearned arrogance and presses the fight on. When the older woman goes to town on her with the broadsword it too ends up sliced in half by the emerald blade, but Shu Lien is still able to bring the remaining stump to a halt within an inch of Jen’s exposed neck. Jen fails to accept defeat & mercy gracefully, but she loses nonetheless.

Feels strange to say so little about this fight whereas I’ve talked forever about so many others, but sometimes, there’s not much left to say. This is everything a fight scene should be: smart, smooth, creative, packed with emotion, complex but natural, fast and furious. Even a few pinches of subdued humor. There is still plenty left in the film, both in terms of fighting and of the plot being resolved, but after this barn-burner the movie’s pretty much over.

Grade: A+

Coming Attractions: Let’s have a walk in the trees.

Bamboo-zled

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3 comments on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (fight 5 of 6)

  1. One of my favorite fight scenes ever, and honestly the film that got me into the genre. I agree with the grade, A+ for sure.

  2. My favorite part of this fight is when Shu Lien is trying to carry that heavy ax/spear/i don’t know what you call it, and she can’t lift it up and both her and Jen sort of halt for a second, and then Shu Lien is like forget that, and proceeds to pick something else and keeps fighting. Like you said, the subtle humor.

    • It’s called a Monk’s Spade. I used to think it was some kind of ornamental stand until I looked it up. That humor is a bit on the broad side, but still works. I appreciated more the shots of Jen visibly shaking & rattled but trying to keep on her Tough Girl face.

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