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In Chia-Chi Wu’s article ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is Not a Chinese Film’, the author cites a popular criticism of the film as being “pseudo-Chinese but not Chinese, pseudo-Western but not Western”.
On the surface, it may be marketed as a Wuxia film; a martial arts genre distinct to classic Chinese cinema – but upon closer inspection, CTHD is indeed a jigsaw puzzle of efforts from different nations. The film was shot in China, however co-produced by international companies in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the US. The screenplay, co-written by American James Schamus, is brought to life by a cast of Chinese language actors from all over the world. A main controversial aspect of the film is the discrepancy that none of the main cast speak what is considered “standard” Mandarin, with Hong Kong-born Chow Yun-fat, Malaysian-born Michelle Yeow and Taiwanese-born Chang Chen all speaking in their own distinct local accents. This compromise led to a hybrid style of dialogue that features literary Mandarin typical of the martial genre with colloquial Mandarin that strays from the traditional wuxia style. Furthermore, others argue that the film falls victim to ‘cultural translation’, which refers to “the process in which film directors, considering audiences living in different cultural backgrounds, transform the original value of the cultural texts into a new form recognised by the audiences” (Tuan, 2015). In this case, opinions include that CTHD translates Asian values such as respect for elders and obedience into individualism and feminism, which are much more celebrated in the Western culture. All of these factors have contributed to criticisms regarding the authenticity of CTHD as a Chinese film. As Wu notes, negative perceptions of the film regard it as “not Chinese” enough, not “authentically Chinese,” and failing to convey the “genuine spirit” of martial chivalry.
The transnational nature of CTHD can largely be attributed to the influence of director Ang Lee, who is Taiwanese-born and raised, from a background of Mainland Chinese parents, and later studied and began a career in the United States. Lee quotes that he is “a sort of foreigner everywhere” – not fully Taiwanese in Taiwan, not traditionally Chinese in China and a whole “abstract other” in the US. For me, being Chinese-born, Australian-raised and having recently returned from living in the US, Lee’s sentiment hits strikingly real and close to heart. Although my version of Chinese culture may not be necessarily be completely traditional, it is still an honest reality that is as much a true experience of being of Chinese heritage. Hearing the variety of accents in Lee’s film was a welcome reality as a kid who grew up hearing different accents from parents and family friends from regions all over the country. Hence, for me it doesn’t matter that CTHD might not be authentically Chinese from a traditional sense. What matters is Lee’s intention to create a film that honours his culture, and the fact that his film with its “pan Chinese consciousness” is still a very real and honest representation of a version of Chinese heritage.
Of course, all of the politics aside, what CTHD reminded me most was the sense of curious and joyous awe that I felt watching the amazing flying people from similar wuxia films on my TV as a kid. If at the end of the day, people leave the film with a positive memory of a great homage to an important piece of Chinese culture, then it is a success in my books – whether it be necessarily 100% authentic or not.
- Wu, C. (2002). Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is Not a Chinese Film. Spectator, 22(1), pp.65-79.
- Tuan, I. (n.d.). Globalisation and Hybridisation in Mulan and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. [online] National Chiao Tung University. Available at: http://hs.nctu.edu.tw/tuan/course/09Theater%20and%20Film%20Studies/Student/Final/9745502.ppt [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017].