Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (fight 6 of 6)

In which our protagonists do their best Cathy Rigby.

Which is odd, because there’s not a lot of happy thoughts in this movie.

6) Li Mu Bai vs Jen Yu (round three)

The Fighters:

  • Li Mu Bai. Played by Chow Yun “I’ve heard all the jokes there are about my name, thank you” Fat.
    • Armed with: a normal taijijian.
  • Jen Yu, who’s had quite a busy day indeed. Played by Zhang Ziyi.
    • Armed with: Green Destiny, of course.

The Setup: This picks up right after the conclusion of the previous fight. Jen, being a sore loser, rejects Yu Shu Lien’s mercy and slashes her across the arm, just in time for Li Mu Bai to arrive. She flies away (this is a running theme for her) with LMB in pursuit. He catches up to her in a picturesque bamboo forest.

The Fight: It’s certainly different, a definite change of pace. They spent most of it going on top of or in & out of the trees. The actual element of “fighting” has been dialed down to a bare minimum (occasionally their swords meet), but rather than the intense physicality of the previous battle now the staging is given over to the complicated wirework.

Complicated indeed; this must have been quite the pain in the neck to block out and execute. Sometimes, it looks pretty cool:

And then sometimes, it doesn’t. Because the precariously perched participants often look less like warriors whose mystical powers can make their bodies lighter than air… and sometimes they just look like actors who are awkwardly being held up by wires:

This is a problem with a lot of wire fu movies, or at least a problem I have with them: use it too much or inappropriately and it’s more cheesy than exciting (I think Iron Monkey is about as boring as watching paint dry, for instance). For the most part this is a film that uses its wires judiciously, to enhance rather than replace the action. But this fight goes a bit in the other direction.

Which, to be fair, is a lofty goal. After all, just a few minutes previous we had an incredibly kinetic, ground-based showdown. Trying to do one of those again would not just be repetitive, but a foregone conclusion: there’s no question that Li Mu Bai could destroy Jen effortlessly if he really wanted to. Instead, this floaty “fight” is more about two characters probing at each other and trying to make a connection. The music, dying down to mostly a lot of soothing string work, is rather supportive of this approach. And there’s the occasional shot like this that is just downright breathtaking:

Overall I’d say this fight alternates between silly and beautiful, but never at any point is it exciting. Breathtaking, to be sure, and even a few amusing bits as Mu Bai’s simple leg work sends Jen flying from her bamboo perch, or at the end when she challenges him to take Green Destiny away from her “in three moves” and he smirks and seizes it in one. She remains insolent, so he tosses the sword down a nearby waterfall, which she foolishly dives after; her subsequent abduction by Jade Fox marks the end of the encounter.

(Note: from here the fight scenes are effectively over. There is a rather cool bit later in which the Fox ends up on the receiving end of Li Mu Bai’s sword, but it’s so brief as to not warrant inclusion.)

I can’t fault it from a dramatic or narrative standpoint, necessarily. However, as an action sequence, it’s lacking. Still… it IS awful purty.

Grade: B-

Goodbye, Crouching Tiger. You weren’t always perfect, but you were real good to me.

Coming Attractions:

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