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A photo of the four main characters from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

July – Week 2 – Wuxia Goes Hollywood

Every time I search for a list of the top wuxia films, inevitably, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is somewhere on that list. It is considered to be a classic contemporary wuxia film, and it is the highest grossing foreign language film in the United States. Still. Despite being released over 20 years ago. It also happened to be one of those films that had been on my ‘to watch’ list forever. So this week I decided to rectify that. I was curious to find out why this was the film that brought wuxia films to Hollywood.

Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not entirely sure I have an answer. The film is spectacularly gorgeous, but it was also fascinating from a story perspective. I say fascinating because more and more I’ve come to realize just how ingrained western story structures are in my subconscious. Every time I experience a story that deviates from the western style, it’s somehow still jarring. But not in a bad way. I love being reminded that there are other ways to tell a story, and I love discovering new narratives. It’s just fascinating to realize how deep those cultural biases can run.

One thing I will say about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is that I’ve read a lot of complaints that the fight scenes aren’t realistic. Specifically, people seem to be baffled by the fact that the characters appear to fly through the air. To that all I have to say is, “Have you seen a Marvel movie lately?!” I mean, come on. Yes, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may not have Western-style fight choreography. But the action sequences in this film are extraordinary. They’re beautiful and exhilarating all at once, and I was riveted from beginning to end. And it’s not just this film. With each passing week, I’m falling more and more in love with the style of martial arts in wuxia films.

So I can finally cross off my list the film that brought wuxia to Hollywood. But that’s not all I did this week. I also read more deeply about the world of wuxia. I learned about how these stories all take place in a shared universe that is a fictional counterpart to Imperial China. And I learned the difference between wuxia and its fantasy subgenre xianxia. In a nutshell, if there’s magic, it’s xianxia. No magic? It’s wuxia.

I also read about the three authors who basically created the modern wuxia genre in the later half of the 20th century. Jin Yong, Liang Yusheng, and Gu Long created most of the conventions and tropes that make up wuxia today, and their books have been adapted into countless films and television shows over the decades. I think I know what I’ll be watching/reading for the rest of this month!

Finally, I discovered that there is a place in China where you can pay to “fly” like wuxia heroes. I’m so in.

Happy Sunday all.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!