Sunday, October 18, 2015

Late Bloomer --- “The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” (Disney --- Mu Lan)

This is the best era. This is also the worst era. All that glitters is not gold, but the cream will rise to the top. Still, only time will tell.  ‘’The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” Disney says. The late bloomer I’d like to talk about today is the film director Ang Lee and his film ‘’Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

It might be hard to find a philosopher who also understands the market. At times, life experience, particularly the adversity, can truly help shape one’s career, in the hidden way though. And the same important thing might be the ability to keep the balance between sense and sensitivity/sensibility, particularly when creating art related production.

In my eyes, ‘’Crouching Tiger” is a ‘’spiritual action” film (I know there is no such genre). It’s so spiritual and the hidden message is very deep as well.

I believe it is the vital talent for a director to choose the unique story/script. Film/ Anime is basically a visual art, ‘’the visual appealing’’ is certainly the dominant role. But a film, a deep commercial film will turn out to be a really extraordinary wine.  It might look similar with the ordinary wine, but they taste differently. The depth helps create the multiple layers of flavor in the extraordinary wine compared with normal wine with single layer of flavor. It’s the same thing goes with film.

So ‘’Crouching Tiger’’ is just such a deep wine with complexity, partly due to its original author Wang Dulu….But even just watching the movie, we can still see at least two important  themes to strengthen the complexity of total flavors: freedom and death.  

Being a teenager daughter of an aristocrat, Jen Yu certainly has everything. She even has the courage to refuse the arranged marriage by running away from her husband on the wedding night. Also, the accidental encounter with Lo, the desert bandit, also ends up a true love relationship. Besides, Jen’s combative skills are superb enough to guard herself fighting in the “Giang Hu”. But eventually, she jumps off the mountain…

Wrapped up in the ‘’exotic ancient martial art’’ style, the film managed to put together lots of ‘’eye candies’’ to maximize the chances of commercial success as an entertainment production, but in the deepest layer, this is a very serious film. If we put this into a modern context, the story could turn out to be like this, a girl born in a rich family (governor) with a successful career (warrior) and a boyfriend (powerful gang leader) loved her, finally committed suicide. Jen didn’t die because of ‘’restraint”, she actually died because of ‘’emptiness” or that kind of ‘’adrift feeling’’, which makes this character a very interesting figure, also makes this ‘’ancient martial art’’ film a very modern one. It’s thought-provoking.

At times, the 99% of a film might be just the foreshadowing of the ending, and only a few lines reveal the hidden message. In the “Crouching Tiger” (at 48:30), Jen talked to her master Fox:

“Master... I started learning from you in secret when I was 10. You enchanted me with the world of Giang Hu. But once I realized I could surpass you, I became so frightened! Everything fell apart. I had no one to guide me, no one to learn from.”

If we do a literal translation based on the original Chinese scripts, it might be like this:
“Master………………..I became so frightened! I can’t see the edge of the universe, and I do not know where to go, who to follow?”

I don’t mean to compare the literal translation and free translation. Here I only borrow such translations to help me illustrate this question, actually a philosophical question proposed by Jen --- Who am I? Where do I go?

Jen expressed her fear as a drifter. This is the fear to freedom, and the fear to victory. Being an ace of martial art, she can even defeat her teacher, but then what? What is the roadmap for her entire life?  …Then Jen met Lo in the desert where a new world might be opened up for her, but obviously even a true love is neither her reason to settle down…In the mundane world, nothing can stop Jen and nothing can save Jen…

Many Europeans might be familiar with French philosopher Albert Camus. In his book “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Camus says, ‘’there is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy “. In Camus’ eyes, the world is, absurd. 

Some people might have gone through such similar stage, particularly when they were young. Or at times they discovered themselves a bit further along this way, most of them successfully came back to the mundane world with an “anchor” in the spiritual realm, which might be a cause, a commitment or a goal. If this person is a religionist, such as a Christian, he or she might understand this very well, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain” (Source: Hebrews 6:19 / Bible). We can even argue the hope is an illusion, but that’s another story...Whatever the anchor is, it helps the drifter’s soul settle down in the secular life.

In Jen’s case, with her sharp eyes, she has seen through the meaninglessness of many aspects of real life. When Li MuBai tried to convince Jen to go to Mount WuDang, she responded with ‘’WuDang is a whorehouse! Keep your lessons!” Jen also argued with Yu Shu Lian as she believed the so-called friendship could just be a hypocritical thing…

This is an uninhibited, cynical soul, but deep down, Jen is innocent, what she chases is something ‘’real’’. One thing for sure, Jen is definitely not “kitsch”.  She is too pure to find herself a place in the sophisticated and, dirty “Giang Hu”.  A final leap over the mountain is probably the ultimate way (also a logic character development) to liberate her struggling soul.

For me, “Crouching Tiger” is not a martial art movie. Martial Art is one of the Unique Selling Points for box office, which was definitely terrific. It is a tragedy about a fragile individual; such story can happen any time and any place.   

The character (personality) of a film may reflect the character of the director. For ‘’Crouching Tiger”, being essentially a tragedy film, Ang Lee didn’t pursue a sentimental way to convey the sense of tragedy. It’s actually unfolded with dynamic vibe and sober tone…

Speaking of inspiration, Ang Lee used to say, “I think that for every movie I make, I always try to duplicate that feeling of purity and innocence that I got when I saw this movie (Love Eternal)…” (Source: ).

I think as the time goes by, how we look at the thing called ‘’life’’, will inevitably influence the way how we make an entertainment production.  Like wine, the complexity is developed through aging, yet it is also hard to lock in the flavor of the bottom layer --- innocence. And that is something less about the ‘’craft”, more about life.

*********Squeezing time to write up this article to organize my scattered thoughts after re-watching this classic film,  there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand audience’s eyes, this one, is just through my eyes…When I have time, I’d like to write more about Ang Lee’s film, and another “flower” ---- Hayao Miyazaki’s anime…They all inspire me!

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