A commenter asked me to critique this movie, and boy am I glad I did. I saw it a long time ago, back when all movies held something new for me, and before it was hard for me to find movies where women kick ass.
There are three main women and two main men. Among the women, we have Jiao Long, teenaged ass-kicker; Yu Shi Lien, middle-aged ass-kicker; and Jade Fox, old ass-kicker. The men are Li Mu Bai, semi-retired ass-kicker in love with Yu, and Luo Xiao Hu, nomadic ass-kicker in love with Jiao. This movie kicked ass. (And now I’m done using those words. Sorry.)
The only downside was that I watched an English-dubbed version (as opposed to Mandarin with subtitles), and the words didn’t match the lip movements; this is only a problem because I am partially deaf, and I rely pretty heavily on lip-reading when dialogue is tricky. It’s not always a problem– usually it’s super-easy to guess based on the half-heard syllables I get– but when things get really interesting, I have to focus really hard to follow.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s my major complaint: sometimes, because I am partially deaf, I could not hear all the awesomeness.
This movie is primarily about Jiao, who is at a crossroads. She has three paths: live the high life as the governor’s daughter, but marry a boring nobleman; run off with Jade Fox, her former mentor, or with Luo, her nomad bandit lover, but never receive proper training in Wudan martial arts; or become Li’s student, but admit someone else superiority over herself.
Because really, much of this movie’s drama is driven by Jiao’s refusal to allow any one else to have power over her. When Luo robs her on the road, she chases after him and nearly fights his entire group in order to retrieve her comb. Because even though it was just a comb, he had taken it from her hand and smiled at her powerlessness, and she could not allow him to “win” like that. (Also, I think she was intrigued by him and his life — in her aggressive self-reliance, she is seeking freedom, and his life looks very free indeed.)
Now, as a feminist, I obviously think it’s laudable for a woman to fight for her right to self-determination. All people should be able to control their own lives (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness– I’m more American than I thought), and feminism is the radical notion that women are people.
However, I think Jian’s insistence on her autonomy causes a lot of the pain in this movie. Jade Fox accuses Jian of deliberately mistranslating the training manuals for her, simply so that Jian could be more skilled than her own mentor. This may or may not be true– I would also easily believe Jian’s explanation, that she hid her natural gifts so as not to hurt her mentor– but Jian’s continued resistance to Li’s mentoring surely caused everyone much heartache. She did need the training, the discipline, and Li lost his life chasing after her trying to give it to her. Jade Fox lost her life, too, in the chase, and Yu lost the love of her life, which is nearly worse, her grief was so great. And poor Luo, too, of course– he finally finds his way back to her, and she refuses him because she’s in such a muddle about her training.
Actually, looking back at it, the whole thing reminds me a lot of Thelma and Louise; she tries her hardest to refuse the world imposed upon her, but in the end her running comes to naught and she commits a transcendent suicide. It’s even a cliff both times. Is that really the only way these stories can end? Is it really Patriarchy Or Death?
I certainly hope not…but if I fling myself off a cliff someday, you’ll all know why: I’m trying to outrun the patriarchy.
(Check out my next post on this film here!)