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: https://sinaphile.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/eastern-ways-in-western-dress-cultural-hybridity-and-subversion-in-yojimbo/ [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].
Wu, C-C. (2002) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is Not a Chinese Film. Spectator (Spring, 22.1) pp. 65-79.