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02 April 2003 — Crouching Tiger [part one] (1)

My favorite film from the last five years is probably Ang Lee's Kung Fu masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I loved the archetypal characters, the choreographed action sequences, the gorgeous costumes and sets, and the epic story. I'm a sucker for Asian books and films, especially if they're of high quality. Crouching Tiger is of the highest quality. It's a shame that it lost the Best Picture Oscar to the mediocre Gladiator.

I knew the film was based on a Chinese novel, so I searched for an English translation. None exists. Then, last fall, I learned that ComicsOne would be publishing a series of graphic novels based on the story, marking the first time the entire tale has appeared in English. I'm pleased to report that these comic books, though expensive, are beautiful adaptations.

Much of the material that appears in my upcoming Crouching Tiger weblog entries is copyrighted material and is used without permission. I encourage you comic collectors/Crouching Tiger fans to purchase the series. I'm sharing this for those who would never consider purchasing a comic book but who want to learn more about he adventures of Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien. (Note that preproduction on a film prequel to Crouching Tiger has begun. Fan outline here.)

Wang Du Lu's Biography by So Man Sing

Wang Du Lu (1909-1977), the penname of Wang Bao Siang, was born in a Manchurian family in Beijing. He was a popular Chinese Wuxia [also here and here] (Kung Fu) novelist from the 1930s. Love and tragedy are the center of his novels. He was known as one of the four founding fathers of Northern Martial Arts authors; therefore, he has influenced many writers of the future. In total, Wang Du Lu wrote more than thirty Wuxia novels. The most renowned of these are a series of five books that are collectively known as the Crane-Iron Pentalogy. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (the film) is based on the fourth book in this Pentalogy which includes:

  1. Crane Frightens KunLun
  2. Precious Sword, Golden Hairpin
  3. Sword Force, Pearl Shine
  4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  5. Iron Knight, Silver Vase

Note that the stories are told using a lot of flashbacks, similar to the manner in which the film related the meeting of Jen and Lo in the middle of the main story. These flashbacks make it difficult to create a chronological story recap, as I'm going to try to do. I'm going to relate the information contained in the first two graphic novels, but there's likely to be some flashback in the third issue that provides information about what has occurred previously. Also note that the story that I tell is the story as told in the graphic novels, which may not be the same story as told in the novels themselves (or in the upcoming film prequel).


Background
These stories take place during the latter part of the Ching Dynasty (aka Qing Dynasty or Manchu Dynasty), which lasted from 1644-1911. (My guess is that they occur in the mid-nineteenth century.)

Grand Yu
Grand Yu was a courier, a profession in which it is easy to make enemies. He had a good friend named Blade Master Long Ho. They worked together in Beijing and they became as close as brothers.

Lon Ho lusted after many women. His passions were so strong that he killed a man in a fight over a woman. Yu gave Ho some money so that he could escape to the Henan region. Lo became a raider in Henan. He became rich, had a family.

Many years later, Yu was assigned to protect the new governor of Henan. Before Yu could take the job, Ho and a gang of thieves kidnapped the governor. Yu was outraged when he learned of this. He tracked down Ho and tried to convince him to release the governor.

Ho broke the friendship.

He kidnapped the governor's young wife and took her to a temple at the top of a mountain. There he defiled her. After three days, Ho released her.

Yu tracked Ho once again, and they fought. In the heat of the battle, Ho was killed.

Ho's family did not notify the authorities because of their background. The governor was ashamed and did not report the incident either. Yu was so depressed over having killed is best friend that he went home and closed his business.

Ho Family
Time passes. Long Ho's children grow. His oldest son is Iron Tower (Second Tiger Ho), his second son is Purple Ghost (Seventh Tiger Ho), and his daughter is Jeng Ho. Jeng Ho is married to Golden Spear (Yu Gan Cheung). They are all skilled warriors, and they begin to hunt for their father's killer.

It is Spring.

In Beijing, the magnificent Green Destiny sword is under the care of Golden Spear. He is a fellow of exceptional skill, an undefeated champion of spear forms. One night, two masked brothers use lightfoot kung-fu to slip by Golden Spear and steal the sword. The thieves flee across the rooftops. Golden Spear, untrained in lightfoot kung-fu, pursues them on the ground, his powerful legs chewing the paved streets to rubble.

Golden Spear impales one of the thieves with his spear, but the other thief scales the walls of a keep. Golden Spear is unable to follow, but he pounds the wall, causing his opponent to fall to the ground. The thief has no choice: he draws the Green Destiny, and with its shocking power, he defeats Golden Spear, cutting his sash. The thief leaps across a river and escapes.

Jeng Ho, his wife, brings Golden Spear his weapon, and she informs him that her brothers have discovered the location of Grand Yu. Golden Spear promises to recover the Green Destiny, but first he will help his wife seek vengeance.

[Note: we are not given many clues as to who stole the sword. I'm not even certain it's integral to the plot, though I suspect it is. In escaping, the thief cuts Yu Gan Cheung's sash, which is characteristic of Li Mu Bai's swordwork, yet I'm not certain we're to think that Li Mu Bai is the thief. In fact, I suspect he has nothing to do with the theft.]

Yu Shu Lien
Grand Yu is now living in Hebei Province, Deer County with his devoted wife and his daughter, Shu Lien. Shu Lien is beautiful; she has lustrous long hair, sparkling eyes, luscious lips, pearly white teeth, and pure smooth skin. She is intelligent. Above all, she has great skill in kung-fu. The local boys think she is perfect.

Shu Lien is worried for her father. His strength has diminished. Age has caught him.

It is early April, and the family makes a ritual journey to visit the graves of their ancestors. Suddenly their cart is attacked by four members of the Ho family [none of which are the characters mentioned above]. The gang of Ho brothers take turns attacking Grand Yu. Yu takes the first three attacks in stride, but the fourth catches his arm. He is no match against the combined might of four attackers.

Yu Shu Lien slips from the carriage and using her lightfoot kung-fu she slips behind the attackers. They cannot touch her. She steals their weapons. The brothers Ho find themselves on the defensive, and suddenly one of them is on the ground, seriously hurt. Shu Lien commands them to yield, just as help from the village arrives. The Ho family is awed by Shu Lien's skill.

The townspeople wish to turn the Ho brothers over to the authorities, but Grand Yu refuses. He lets them go free. As the Yus continue their journey, Grand Yu praises his daughter: before today he only thought of her as a little girl, but she has impressed him with her blade skills and her courage.

Li Mu Bai
Li Mu Bai is a disciple of the Wudan school of kung-fu. His father was a martial artist, and friends of Nan Chiang and Kwang Chi. Ki's parents died when he was very young, and he grew up with his uncle. He now trains with Nan Chiang and Kwang Chi.

Li's friend Shi visits one day and tells him of the beautiful and skilled Yu Shu Lien. Shi has heard that if any man can beat Shu Lien in a friendly battle of three rounds, she will marry him.

Li Mu Bai travels to Deer County with Shi. They learn that Yu Shu Lien is at the temple, observing the Buddhist ceremony of newly consecrated idols. They watch her leave the temple, and Li Mu Bai follows her. Shu Lien worries that he may be one of her father's enemies.

Shu Lien confronts Li Mu Bai, and he requests a friendly battle. She tells him to unsheathe his weapon, but he refuses. He holds his sheathed sword behind his back. Shu Lien attacks, and for a while Li Mu Bai is at ease, but a sudden flurry forces him to draw his weapon (is it the Green Destiny?), for which he praises Shu Lien.

Shu Lien commands him to follow her, and they leap to the rooftops. She slices leaves and hurls them at him, but he sends them flying back. She leaps over him, and he neatly cuts her sash.

Grand Yu sees the battle on the rooftops and commands them to stop. He tells Shu Lien that she cannot win; Li Mu Bai's kung-fu is legendary. Yu invites Li Mu Bai to tea, and they discover that Li's masters, Nan Chiang and Kwang Chi, are good friends of Yu. But what has brought Li to Deer County?

Li Mu Bai explains that he has heard he might win Shu Lien's hand in marriage if bests her in a battle of three rounds. There is embarrassed silence. Shu Lien turns red. Yu is angry. Li has been deceived. A marriage was arranged for Shu Lien when she was very young and her wedding with the son of Head Guard Mong is coming soon.

Li Mu Bai apologizes and leaves.

Outside, he confronts his friend, Shi. She confesses that he made up everything so that Li Mu Bai could meet Shu Lien. Li admits that he is attracted to Shu Lien, but says that because she is already betrothed, he will not disgrace her. Still: where can he find such beauty in this world?

Li Mu Bai decides that he will return to his uncle, and find a job with the government to keep himself busy. Shi is shocked: a government job will tie Li down, and Li has always valued his freedom. His uncle, too, is a little taken aback, but advises that Li Mu Bai can always change his mind. Until then, he should be aware of everything, suffer indignities without protest, work hard, and try to become an official or something of that nature. His aunt gives him a hat, and Li Mu Bai leaves for Beijing.


More tomorrow. I encourage you to purchase the graphic novels from which I'm retelling this story.

On this day at foldedspace.org

2004Geek Yard Sale   Come to the Rather Large Yard Sale at Joel and Aimee's this weekend (3374 SE 16th, near the Aladdin Theater)! Peruse our collection of geeky stuff! Computer parts! Books (all sorts)! Games! Comics! Furniture! Star Trek stuff! Art! More books!

Microfiction   I am making progress as a writer. I force myself to be observant. I write daily. I've learned to revise. I'm aware of every little error. I wince when publishing a hurried weblog entry.

2002Renice   I came home from work today and napped. I didn't wake up until Kris got home. Then I weaseled out of going to the gym. Again.

Comments
On 03 April 2003 (03:43 PM), Joelah said:

In an attempt to kill some time, I ran a Google search on "Ho". You may be pleased to know you didn't make the top 200.


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