When we learned last week that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's sequel would debut on Netflix, I spent an evening curled up re-watching the original. And as someone who professed to hating it as a crotchety 1o-year-old (more on that later), I have to say I've changed my mind.
Here's the thing you should know: I love martial arts movies. I love them the way I love Hershey's chocolate, without any pretensions of connoisseurship. The costumes, the wire fighting, the predictable romantic storylines—they tap directly into the pleasure centers of my brain.
Wuxia, the Chinese name for the martial arts genre, takes place in a fantastical world existing at some vague point in China's past, roughly analogous, perhaps, to the medieval fantasy of Tolkien or Game of Thrones. This world occupied an embarrassingly large part of my childhood daydreams. During summer vacations, I gorged myself on wuxia movies, interminably long TV series, and even books, which is why the names of weapons still take up an outsized part of my limited Chinese vocabulary.
But in the dial-up days of the 90s and early 00s, it wasn't that easy to watch Chinese movies or TV shows in America. You either had to find bootleg DVDs in Chinatown or borrow them from a friend of a friend who brought them from China (also bootlegged, of course). Occasionally, my parents bundled me off to screenings at the local university put on by the Chinese graduate student association.
So when I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in a real theater, with plush chairs and the scent of popcorn, I was expecting something special. From the perspective of 1o-year-old me, the fight scenes and the set pieces seemed fine, but nothing special—nothing I hadn't already seen before.
Then the movie exploded on the Oscar scene and my American classmates began cracking crouching tiger jokes, and my indifference toward the movie curdled into contrarianism. You might understand why a 10-year-old would resent this encroachment into a special, personal world.
I'm happy to report I no longer feel that way as a saner (I hope) adult. I actually hadn't watched any wuxia movies in a long time, and it was utterly pleasurable to re-immerse myself in that world. I'd also like to think the more mature me could see beyond the fights and costumes, though honestly, they're pretty great, too.
You don't need me to add to the chorus of recommenders, but watching or re-watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will be well worth you time. You can, of course, stream it on Netflix.
Top image: The famous bamboo fight scene.