Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – An Acrobatic Inspiration


When it was released back in 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn’t just break the mould with its stunning visuals and story, it also captured the imagination of western cinema goers with great numbers at the box office, accompanied by glowing reviews from even the most sceptical movie critics.

Ang Lee’s movie successfully combined exhilarating martial arts skill with breathtaking effects and stunts, many of which were performed by the actors themselves, including the leading stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh. All the spectacular martial arts action sequences and effects were wonderfully crafted by Yuen Woo Ping, who even surpassed those he designed for The Matrix in 1999.

Near the beginning of the movie, there is an epic sequence involving a chase over rooftops, with the protagonists running up the sides of walls, leaping from rooftops with impossible grace and ease. Throughout, there are more acrobatic scenes of martial arts mastery, including memorable fight scenes between characters as swords even clash between swaying treetops.

Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert recalled that, after watching these scenes, he marvelled at how detailed the CGI effects were. Impressed, he questioned Ang Lee about the use of computer effects and how much they featured. “Not for the most part,” was the modest reply, with the director explaining that effects were only used to remove the appearance of safety wires in shots. Everything else was natural because of his desire to make each scene as realistic as possible.

This movie isn’t just about the fights and the effects. What wraps the whole package together as a genuine cinema masterpiece, is how Ang Lee weaves the compelling and unfolding story. There’s unrequited love, revenge, and tragedy, the quest for a stolen sword, honour to uphold and secrets to be revealed, all stitched seamlessly together amidst a visually stunning landscape.

The inevitability destiny of the sequel

Considering that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was made for an estimated $17 million budget, which pales in comparison to what is spent on many blockbuster movies, it achieved outstanding success at the box office, grossing well over $200 million internationally. Along with being a financial success, it also gained widespread recognition at the 73rd Academy Awards, picking up four Oscars out of nine nominations, plus a plethora of other prestigious accolades around the world.

In a movie industry that sometimes seems agonisingly devoid of originality these days, filled with multi-film franchises and sequels, or even remakes of remakes, it was only a matter of time before another Crouching Tiger movie would appear. It took a while until Sword of Destiny was released but it was roundly criticised amongst the expert movie reviewers, and achieved nowhere near the same kind of box office success.

Mixed distribution, with the movie being released simultaneously online via Netflix and at theatres, with some cinema chains refusing to show the movie for that reason, had some considerable part in the financial failure of the sequel, grossing just $31 million in the USA. However, ‘Sword of Destiny’ was also generally panned by the critics. The original 2000 movie scored an impressive 97% at Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the highest rated ever, but the sequel scored a highly unflattering 19% and negative reviews.

Those ratings were perhaps somewhat harsh, as the sequel did retain many similar characteristics as the original. However, whereas the acrobatic martial arts and stunning visuals had been considered innovative in 2000, by 2016, such visual effects and action sequences were considered par for the course. The lack of Ang Lee at the helm for the sequel also left many critics feeling that something was missing from Sword of Destiny’s story overall, which perhaps only his artistic vision could have added.

Acrobatic arts in popular culture

One of the most captivating aspects that made the Crouching Tiger movies popular was the thrilling acrobatic sequences. Although tightly associated with the Asian martial arts, actors and stunt performers had to demonstrate remarkable feats of acrobatic ability, which all require careful training and preparation.

Such a demanding level of effort and focus is not lost on Cirque Du Soleil acrobat Kristie Wade, who spent years in training, which including time with the International School of Arts in Beijing, to become part of the world-renowned acrobatic troupe she tours with. These days, their movement and agility is influenced by cultures throughout the world – including those which inspired Crouching Tiger and Sword of Destiny – all contributing to the acrobatic prowess demonstrated in their performances.

For most of us, such daringly dangerous feats and remarkable acrobatic leaps are impossible but we can at least pretend, with a whole host of video games with acrobatic protagonists and themes. At a more relaxed and potentially rewarding pace, the Six Acrobats casino game hosted on Betway Casino is based around those of a circus variety. Meanwhile, action game fans will need to use a certain amount of dexterity with gamepads and keyboards, when playing games such as Batman: Arkham Knight by DC Entertainment, or any of the Assassin’s Creed series of games, which are heavily influenced by urban acrobats and the ‘Free Running’ culture.

However, acrobats don’t need to be superheroes, movie stars or even circus performers, to gain renown. In October 2017, the BBC Travel Show took a look at urban acrobats helping Ljubljana, demonstrating their thrilling skills around the Slovenian capital. They became a social media sensation and put their newfound fame to good use, helping attract attention to the city’s campaign to keep its streets clean. It’s fun to imagine these urban heroes inspiring younger generations, with their acrobatic efforts reminiscent of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie heroes.

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