The Spectacle of Transnational Cinema – weeks 1-3

As objects of transnational cinema, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) operate somewhere separately in this realm, though often overlap. Their influences from the West are clear, but the differences in their reception serves to different them. At a glance, the two films may seem to be similar — they both feature sword-wielding heroes who battle a great evil in a historical setting (that has been transformed and mythologised through its modern sensibilities), and who display a physical prowess that was foreign to their respective Western audiences — but a simplification of their similarities would serve to discredit their idiosyncratic productions and receptions both at ‘home and in the West.

Both films were received exceptionally well in the West, though Crouching was subject to its fair share of criticism. Despite both films drawing heavily on Western influence, Lee’s film in particular was criticised for the notion that its “structural simplicity” attempts to “pander to the taste and visual orientation of the West” (Wu, 2002). The way the film punctures moments with acrobatics, scenes where characters glide with superhuman grace, was seen as the reason that it was so well received in the West — an acceptance based on spectacle rather than the “genuine spirit” (Wu, 2002) of Chinese martial chivalry that films of the genre typically emphasised. The film was seen to be “pseudo-Chinese but not Chinese, pseudo-western but not western” (Wu, 2002), a blurring of the lines between nationalities — where does the film belong, if the director is a Taiwanese-born American, the cast and crew populated with a diverse range of nationalities, its source devoutly Chinese yet its visual style an exoticism of this devotion?

A “cultural chauvinism” (Wu, 2002) is evident in Chinese/Taiwanese viewers responses to Crouching. The film was seen to be “not authentically Chinese”, (Wu, 2002) — however Yojimbo, clearly drawing from Western influences, was not met with the same reaction. Viewers felt that the film’s appropriation of the Western (and western texts) acted as a “subversive act of decolonisation” (Schudson, 2011). By reappropriating the Western within a Samurai context, Kurosawa strung together a product of “cultural hybridity” (Schudson, 2011) which relished in its ‘Japanese-ness’, and ultimately revolutionised the Western genre.

In comparison, Crouching in all its success also paved way for a slew of wuxia films capitalising on the popularity of the genre in the West. Ultimately, Ang Lee’s and Akira Kurosawa’s perception in the West as the most popular and critically acclaimed Asian directors lends their works (and their subsequent reception) as captivating explorations of a transnational cinema — through their influences of, and influences on, cinema at large.


Schudson, A. (2011). Eastern Ways in Western Dress: Cultural Hybridity and Subversion in Yojimbo. [online] Archive-Type: Musings of a Passionate Preservationist. Available at: [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].

Wu, C-C. (2002) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is Not a Chinese Film. Spectator (Spring, 22.1) pp. 65-79.

4 thoughts on “The Spectacle of Transnational Cinema – weeks 1-3

  1. Hey Sam!

    Good observation on pointing out the similarities drawn between Yojimbo and Crouchting Tiger, Hidden Dragon. You have definitely raised some valid points where both films employ certain high standards of martial chivalry, however one took better reception than the other when it came to the different audiences across the globe.

    I was wondering given that Yojimbo was shot in the same era as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, would Kurosawa kept to the same innocence and purity we witness in the 1960s Yojimbo? Or do you think he would have attempted to play around with the advanced of technology and special effects like we see in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?


    • Hi Sem, thanks for the comment.

      I would love to have seen Kurosawa experiment with the technological capabilities of today’s films, however I feel like he is a very naturalistic director and would abstain from indulging in special effects (the ending of his great Throne of Blood features Toshirô Mifune being shot at by a barrage of real arrows – high stakes!). His films appear both too nuanced and too grounded to properly complement the wonders that CGI has allowed; it wouldn’t be the same.

      – Sam

  2. Samuel,

    This was an interesting way of comparing Yojimbo and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – I enjoyed reading it.

    One of the articles you reference is titled “Eastern Ways in Western Dress”, but one could also argue that Yojimbo is actually “Western ways” in “Eastern dress”. Desser claims that Japanese filmmakers in the 50s/60s were making films for a Western audience. This is pretty clear considering it is a traditional jidai-geki film inserted into the Western genre – making it a lot more accessible to Western audiences. Also, the plot for Yojimbo is inspired by/derived from the pulp noir works of US author Dashiell Hammett. So how much of the film is actually ‘Japanese’? Or is the ‘Japanese-ness’ of the film just a novelty for the entertainment of the West?

    What do you think?


    • Hi Sonia, thanks for the comment.

      I can definitely understand the view that Japanese filmmakers were making films for the West; the US has such a grand cultural influence that it can sometimes be hard to escape (evident in French cinema too, and their love for Hitchcock). That Kurosawa was able to imbue the samurai genre with such Western influences and still have it remain a devoutly Japanese work is definitely a testament to his skills as director.

      In some ways, the ‘Japanese-ness’ of a film is certainly a novelty for the entertainment of the West. Just look at Tarantino with Kill Bill: clearly his appropriation of the samurai genre and iconography is viewed by some as novel and exciting in a way that goes beyond cultural respect. Many people would have seen and praised Kill Bill without any regard as to where Tarantino’s references are drawn from – just seen as pure entertainment.

      – Sam

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