The Best Picture Oscar race is almost entirely an American phenomenon, with American filmmakers recognizing other American filmmakers and handing out the awards in America. It’s mighty rare for a foreign-language film to break out of the “Best Foreign Language Film” ghetto meant to encompass everything in the world outside of a few English-language countries. But Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was one of the rare exceptions. Shot in China, funded by Chinese and Taiwanese companies as well as Columbia and Sony, and filmed in Mandarin with an international cast, it earned a nomination for Best Picture as well as Best Foreign Language film. (It won the latter, but lost the former to Gladiator, of all things.) Some of that is simple box-office: Having made more than $200 million on a $17 million budget, back when blockbusters that size were much rarer than they are today, it became a bona fide phenomenon that Hollywood couldn’t ignore.
Its breakout status wasn’t just about money, though. Crouching Tiger is a sumptuous picture, full of breathless action set amid gorgeous landscapes, with a fairy-tale story grounded in Yuen Woo-Ping’s exceptionally well-choreographed, imaginative combat. It’s so rich, yet so accessible for a film bound up in Chinese mythology and tradition, that it grabbed the attention of a generation of viewers who hadn’t necessarily latched onto Hong Kong martial-arts movies. It was the first martial-arts film nominated for Best Picture—and still the only one, even in these inclusive, populist, let’s-nominate-everyone days.
And Crouching Tiger re-opened the swinging doors that have periodically admitted, or shut out, martial-arts movies from the American mainstream. Even so, it still stands as an odd exception, a one-off experiment for director Ang Lee, for the Academy, and for the American public. We’ll get into that next Tuesday, when our Movie Of The Week coverage revisits Crouching Tiger to look at its oddities as well as its familiar martial-arts thrills. And David Erhlich will pop in on Thursday to continue the discussion with a breakdown of the fight scenes—why they’re different, what they illustrate, and what’s important within them. Grab your sais, hook swords, and battle fans and come jump into the fray as we look at one of the most artful, aesthetically lovely fighting films ever made.
Upcoming Movies Of The Week
September 29: McCabe & Mrs. Miller
October 6: Our month of horror begins with A Nightmare On Elm Street
October 13: Re-Animator
October 20: Eraserhead
October 27: The Blair Witch Project