CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN ALLEGORY:

interpreting the twilit and allegorical film art of Ang Lee

By Gary W. Wright

       

        Like most film artists who began creating film art after 1982, the films of Ang Lee were not only allegorical, but often overshadowed by the helicopter crash that killed actor/director/writer Vic Morrow and child extras Renee Chen and Myca Le around 2:20 am in the early morning of July 23, 1982 on the George Folsey jr. produced John Landis set of the twilit and allegorical, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall produced Landis, Joe Dante, George Miller and Steven Spielberg film, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983).  This implicit allegorical intent was seen in the first twilit and allegorical Lee film, TUI SHOU/PUSHING HANDS (1991).

 

‘It’s a way of keeping your balance,

while unbalancing your opponent.’

 

        Curiously, the film saw Alex and his blonde American wife, Martha Chu-played by Bozhao Wang and Deb Snyder, respectively-struggle to live in their house in New York with Alex’s seventy year old widowed father, Chinese Tai Chi Master Chu-played by Lung Sihung-a man who literally refused to budge from his ancient Tai Chi ways.  Literally, as throughout TUI SHOU/PUSHING HANDS ordinary American citizens of Chinese descent, gang members of Chinese descent who were implicitly linked to Chinese film artists like Zhang Yimou and ten New York police officers all tried and failed to beat up or even move Master Chu.  This struggle to live with Master Chu almost led to the divorce of Alex and Martha.

 

Significantly, Master Chu resembled and was implicitly linked to Walt Disney.  Indeed, Master Chu’s love of calligraphy and smoking cigarettes evoked Uncle Walt’s fondness for drawing, painting and smoking cigarettes, affirming the implicit link of Master Chu to Uncle Walt.  Thus, the sight of Alex and Martha embracing Master Chu and his Tai Chi ways while also embracing the emerging new digital age, in the end, implied the hope of Lee that film artists in general and those linked to the Walt Disney Studio in particular would also embrace the best of the pre-digital film art era and merge that experience with the new era of computer generated imagery (CGI) enhanced film art-and implied Lee’s embrace of a Sino-American film style.  How ironic that the film lacked CGI, a lack of CGI that continued when Lee returned to New York and united with Lung, TUI SHOU/PUSHING HANDS cinematographer Jong Lin, co-writer and co-executive producer James Schamus and editor Tim Squyres on the twilit and allegorical film, THE WEDDING BANQUET (1993).

 

‘You’re witnessing the results of five thousand years

of sexual repression.’

 

        Curiously, the film saw Lung return as Mister Gao and drive another son, Wai-Tung ‘Wayne’ Gao-played by the Johnny Depp resembling and implicitly linked Winston Chao-and his spouse crazy in their New York residence.  However, this time Mr. Gao brought Mrs. Gao-played by Gua Ah-Lei-with him, and his son’s spouse was a young man, Simon-played by Mitchell Lichtenstein.  It was also noticeable that Wayne tried to hide his relationship with Simon by pretending he was engaged to the beautiful young indie painter, Wei-Wei-played by May Chin-when Mr. and Mrs. Gao arrived in New York from China for a visit.  Things took a tragicomic turn when Mom and Dad insisted that Wayne and Wei-Wei get married while they were in New York, a tragicomic turn that threatened to end Wayne and Simon’s romance and the ‘marriage’ of Wayne and Wei-Wei. 

 

However, despite the tensions brought on by the unexpected marriage, Simon, Wayne and Wei-Wei agreed to put aside their differences, live together and raise a child when Wei-Wei revealed that she was pregnant, in the end.  As the film alluded to such twilit and allegorical David Lynch ‘moving paintings’ as TWIN PEAKS (1990-1) and TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), Lee implied his hope that Lynch would not abandon his quirky moving painting film art after the critical abuse that was heaped on TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME the year before.  At any rate, Lee soon left New York behind and travelled to Taipei, Taiwan where he reunited with Chao, Gua, Lin, Lung, Schamus and Squyres on the all Chinese and equally CGI free, twilit and allegorical film, EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994).

 

‘My taste is fine!’

 

        Curiously, Lung returned as another implicitly Disney linked and hands on master surnamed Chu, this one a master Chinese chef, who when he was not cooking fretted over his three unwed daughters, the devout Christian and high school chemistry teacher Jian-Jen, the corporate financial wiz Jia-Chien and the art and CGI loving Jia-Ning-played by Yang Kuei-Mei, Wu Chien-Lien and Wang Yu-Wen, respectively.  Significantly, over the course of the film, Jian-Jen married the implicitly Zhang linked Guo Lun-played by Chen Chao-Jung-and Jian-Ning married the implicitly John Woo linked Chao Ming-Dao-played by .  Even Master Chu shocked his daughters, son-in-laws and Mrs. Liang-played by Gua-by announcing his intention to marry Mrs. Liang’s young and recently divorced daughter, Jin-Rong-played by Chang Sylvia-in the end.  Only the money obsessed Jia-Chien did not find love, implying that Lee was warning the Walt Disney Studios that if they did not continue Uncle Walt’s tradition of emphasizing art, love and higher spiritual goals in their CGI enhanced film art, they would be as unsuccessful in the new CGI enhanced age as Jia-Chien, in the end.  Then it was bravely off to nineteenth century England when Lee teamed up again with Schamus and Squyres on the twilit, CGI free and allegorical film, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995), based on the allegorical Jane Austen novel, Sense And Sensibility (1813).

 

‘He made us all believe he loved you.’

        Curiously, the film saw the implicitly James Cameron linked Colonel Christopher Brandon-played by Alan Rickman-beat the dashing, handsome, implicitly Spielberg linked and nefarious John Willoughby-played by Greg Wise-to the hand in marriage of the lovely Marianne Dashwood-played by Kate Winslet-in the end.  An ending which implied the hope of Lee that Cameron would continue to triumph over Spielberg in the Temple Theatre and retain the title of box office king.  As Col. Brandon’s success in marrying Marianne also saw him triumph over her wicked and implicitly Karen Kain linked Aunt Fanny Dashwood-played by Harriet Walter-with the help of the implicitly Margaret Atwood land Carol Shields linked Mrs. Jennings and her daughter, Charlotte Palmer-played by Elizabeth Spriggs and Imelda Staunton, respectively-Lee also implied his hope that Cameron would triumph over the Canadian artistic establishment, who dismissed him as non-Canadian despite being born and raised in Canada for having the audacity to live in Los Angeles and make violent films.  Intriguingly, this implicit interest in addressing Cameron and Spielberg continued when Lee returned with Schamus and Squyres and his next twilit, allegorical and CGI free film, THE ICE STORM (1997), based on the allegorical Rick Moody novel, The Ice Storm (1994).

 

‘Your family is the void you emerge from and

the place you return to when you die.’

 

Significantly, with its many allusions to such allegorical David Cronenberg films as STEREO (1970), THE BROOD (1979), SCANNERS (1980) and CRASH (1996), Lee implied that he was addressing Cronenberg in THE ICE STORM in the implicit form of thoughtful, ironic and dorky Pennsylvania teen Paul Hood-played by Tobey Maguire.  Given that the film built towards and ultimately climaxed in an eponymous and quintessential Canadian ice storm that led to the death by electrocution of Paul’s family friend, the Justin Trudeau resembling and perhaps linked Michael ‘Mikey’ Carver-played by Elijah Wood-Lee implicitly reminded Cronenberg of the seriousness and family scarring reality of death, a subject that was treated with a casually macabre flippancy in CRASH.  Indeed, the fact that Hood thoughtfully pondered and commented on the hand drawn December 1973 issue #141 of FANTASTIC FOUR throughout the film quietly and implicitly affirmed how childish Lee felt Cronenberg had been in CRASH.

 

Curiously, Hood often compared the desperate and familial exploits of the FF in that issue to families in general and his own four member family in particular throughout the film.  This implicitly linked FANTASTIC FOUR #141 to THE ICE STORM, an implicit link affirmed by the fact that the look of the film evoked that of the comic.  The fact that Paul’s parents, Ben and Elena Hood-played by Kevin Kline and Joan Allen, respectively-resembled husband and wife FF members Reed ‘Mr. Fantastic’ Richards and Sue ‘Invisible Girl’ Richards as much as Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw reaffirmed the implicit link of FANTASTIC FOUR #141 to THE ICE STORM.  This implicit link of film and comic was implicitly reaffirmed by the fact that family friend Janey Carver-played by Sigourney Weaver-resembled both Kathryn Bigelow and Medusa, a member of the rival super group the Inhumans who made a guest appearance in FANTASTIC FOUR #141.  Thus, it was fitting that Ben’s adulterous affair with the slinky and sensual Janey threatened to end the Hood marriage and her marriage to the implicitly Cameron linked Jim Carver-played by Jamey Sheridan-given that the decision of Reed Richards to shut down the brain of his son Franklin to prevent him from being turned into a human bomb by the supervillain, Annihilus, also threatened to end the marriage of Reed and Susan Richards and dissolve the Fantastic Four in FANTASTIC FOUR #141.  However, the death of Mikey appeared to save the two marriages by returning a shocked Ben to the arms of Elena, for it reminded Ben how fragile life was and how quickly the life of a real child could be taken away outside of a comic book.  A shocked and humbled ending that also implied the hope of Lee that Bigelow, Cameron and Spielberg would do more with their film art than implicitly roast each other.

 

At any rate, the significance of issue # 141 of FANTASTIC FOUR throughout THE ICE STORM also anticipated a hulking film from Lee and a trio of webslinging films starring Maguire to come.  In addition, a haunting Native American flute on the soundtrack composed by Mychael Danna for THE ICE STORM that recalled the equally haunting Chinese or Japanese flute heard throughout PUSHING HANDS also anticipated another Asian flute that haunted the film art of Lee when he teamed up again with Schamus and Squyres and fittingly returned with Lung in his next sparingly CGI enhanced film, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000).

 

‘It only looks pure because blood washes so easily

from its blade.’

 

        Curiously, the film alluded to the allegorical film art of Zhang, particularly RED SORGHUM (1987), JU DOU (1990) and RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991), implying that Lee was addressing Zhang.  However, the Ozian structure and legendary sword master of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON recalled the Ozian structure and legendary light sabre wielding Jedi Masters of the STAR WARS films of Lucas, implying that Lee was really replying to Lucas and his recently released and implicitly Spielberg and James Cameron roasting allegorical film, STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENANCE (1999).  Indeed, the inability of legendary and implicitly Great Oz linked Wu Dan fighter Li Mu Bai-played by Chow Yun Fat-to marry the older and implicitly Glinda linked fellow Wu Dan fighter, Shu Lien-played by Yeoh Michelle-and his death at the hands of the implicitly Wicked Witch of the West linked Jade Fox-played by Cheng Pei Pei-when he rescued the young and restless and implicitly Dorothy linked Jen-played by Zhang Ziyi-implied that Lee felt that Lucas had failed to successfully bring the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy to a close and had now killed his reputation forever with the universally panned STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. 

 

The sight of Li giving up his Green Sword of Destiny to the again implicitly Disney linked Sir Te-played by Lung-at the beginning of the film affirmed the implicit intent of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, reminding us that Luke Skywalker-played by Mark Hamill-wielded a hand-made green light sabre in the allegorical, implicitly Spielberg roasting and Lucas executive produced Richard Marquand film, STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983).  A curiously prophetic surrender of Li’s sword to Sir Te, given that Lucas would eventually sell the moisture farm to Disney Corp. in 2012.  The presence of the implicitly Scarecrow linked and Depp resembling bandit leader Lo aka Dark Cloud-played by Cheng Chen-who fell in love with Jen but failed to win her, in the end, also implied that Lee was sending a message to Depp that he was not impressed with his then recently released first allegorical film, THE BRAVE (1997). 

 

Happily, the truly fantastic film was rewarded with phenomenal worldwide success and four Oscars-including for Best Foreign Picture.  Oscars and success for a film created in China with a mostly Chinese born cast that implicitly irritated Zhang Yimou and his superiors in the Chinese government, for Zhang implicitly replied to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and roasted the Taiwanese Lee in the form of the noble but doomed assassin with no name-played by Jet Li-in his twilit and allegorical film, HERO (2002).  As for Lee, he implicitly roasted Lucas again and finally truly lived the CGI dream implicitly hoped for in TUI SHOU/PUSHING HANDS when he teamed up again with Schamus and Squyres on his next twilit, CGI enhanced and allegorical film, HULK (2003), inspired by the characters created by Stan ‘the Man’ Lee and Jack ‘King’ Kirby for Marvel Comics.

 

‘Puny human.’

 

        Indeed, Lucas was implicitly roasted in the form of the gamma radiation enhanced Doctor Bruce ‘Hulk’ Banner-played by Eric Bana.  Allusions to the STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy, and a showdown with the Hulk and the US military in San Francisco, implicitly affirmed that Lee was roasting Lucas in HULK and implying that all that had gone wrong since 1982 had turned the distraught and angry head Jedi into a CGI enhanced blockbuster beast.  Curiously, after getting the CGI lead out, CGI was missing when Lee returned with Schamus to the Temple Theatre with his next twilit and allegorical film, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005).

 

‘This ain’t no rodeo, cowboy!’

 

        Curiously, the sight of indie ranch hands Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist-played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively-herding sheep for big Joe Aguirre-played by Randy Quaid-as young men on visually spectacular Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming in the summer of ’63 at the beginning of the film evoked the equally spectacular mountainous landscape and sheep herds of New Zealand.  This reminded us that Sir Peter Jackson’s blockbuster, CGI enhanced and New Zealand created THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (2001-03) was still fresh in the mind of audiences the year of the release of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.  Indeed, the brief appearance of a character named Basque-played by David Trimble-affirmed the implicit link to Sir Jackson’s trilogy, as Basque resembled Andy Serkis, who played and voiced Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. 

 

The romantic relationship that bloomed between Del Mar and Twist reaffirmed the film’s implicit interest in Sir Jackson, evoking the lesbian relationship between troubled teens Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker-Rieper-played by Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, respectively-in the twilit, allegorical and implicitly Lynch roasting Sir Jackson film, HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994).  The implicit link of Del Mar to Lynch and the film’s allusions to such twilit and allegorical moving paintings as TWIN PEAKS and THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999) reaffirmed the film’s implicit interest in Jackson and Lynch.  Thus, the death of Twist and the sight of Del Mar resignedly continuing with his life, in the end, implied the hope of Lee that the moving paintings of Lynch would still be remembered after Jackson and his blockbuster THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was forgotten.

 

        At any rate, Lee continued his allegorical meditations when he returned with Schamus, Squyres, Staunton and Danny Elfman-composer of HULK-to take stock on Woodstock in the fortieth anniversary year of the legendary Music and Arts Festival in his psychedelically CGI enhanced allegorical film, TAKING WOODSTOCK (2009), inspired by the allegorical Michael Wadleigh film, WOODSTOCK, 3 DAYS OF PEACE & MUSIC (1970), and Taking Woodstock: a true story of a riot, a concert, and a life (2007) by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte.

 

‘Can you dig it?’

 

        Hey, man!  If we were digging it correctly, Lee was humourously likening the efforts of Jason and Ivan Reitman to transform their parking lot at John and King Streets in Toronto to the permanent headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival to the efforts of Sonia, Elliot and Jake Teichberg-played by an unrecognizable Staunton, Demetri Martin and Henry Goodman, respectively-to transform their rundown upstate New York motel and a neighbouring farm owned by Max Yasgur-played by Eugene Levy-into the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.  Indeed, the presence of Levy as Yasgur and some extras who evoked Rob Ford and George Stroumboulopoulos affirmed the film’s implicit interest in Toronto.  A good implicit allegorical choice for the Reitmans, as the annual TIFF has been by and large as successful as the one-off WMAF.  Tragicomically for the Reitmans, one irate visitor from nearby Mississauga showed up for the opening day of TIFF and was so incensed with the list of 100 Essential Films in the official souvenir book that he has been waging a quixotic one man war against TIFF ever since.  Making it curiously fitting that the poor ol’ Gardevil was implicitly addressed by Lee when he teamed up again with Danna and Squyres on the twilit, exuberantly CGI enhanced and allegorical film, LIFE OF PI (2012), inspired by the allegorical Yann Martel novel, Life Of Pi (2001).

 

‘Don’t let these stories and pretty lights fool you, boys.’

 

        For after a beginning in the Pondicherry Zoo that evoked the Central Park Zoo scenes at the beginning of the twilit and allegorical Sir Jackson film, KING KONG (2005), the film soon moved to Montreal, linking the film to Canada and its film art, film artists and film ‘scholars’.  Here the adult Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel-played by Irrfan Khan-told the unusual story of his passage to Canada by Japanese cargo ship as a teen-played by Suraj Sharma-to a sympathetic Canadian listener played by Rafe Spall.  As this turbulent and traumatic adolescent passage across the Pacific haunted the adult Pi as much as the TZ disaster haunted the adult Gar, Lee implicitly affirmed that he was addressing my website and myself in LIFE OF PI.  Then it was off to team up again with Squyres and implicitly come to the support of Lynch once more in the twilit and allegorical film, BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (2016).

 

‘Ours is what they call the karma of action.

The way of the warrior.’

 

        Indeed, Lynch was implicitly linked to celebrated American Iraqi War veteran William ‘Billy’ Lynn-played by Joe Alwyn-throughout the film.  This link implied that despite all of the setbacks Lynch had suffered throughout this film art career-particularly the unpopular, twilit and allegorical moving paintings DUNE (1984) and TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)-Lee still thought that Lynch was a true American film art hero.  Reaffirming in the end that for understanding Lee’s film art necessary it was to tame and unravel the crouching tiger, hidden allegory.