Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Reviewed by: TKL

May 26, 2004

Rating: four

This series was created due to the popularity of the movie version "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" starring Chow Yun Fat. However, in this review, or more accurately, my personal opinion, there will be no comparison between the series and the movie since doing that would be unfair to the TV series itself, a small-budget production with relatively unknown actors/actresses.

THE PLOT: The story is set in the Qing dynasty and revolves around four main characters: Li Mu Bai (Qiu Xin Zhi), Shu Lien (Huang Yi), Jiao Lung (Shui Ling), and Xiao Ho (Peter Ho). They are from different backgrounds, however, fate would later bring them together and their lives become intertwined. Li Mu Bai is from Wu Dan sect, he is very good at kung-fu, however, he has very little experience of life. He is on his way to the capital bringing with him a very precious sword called Qing Ming as a gift to Prince Tai (Zheng Chen Guang).

During his journey, Mu Bai crosses path with Shu Lien who is on her way home. Shu Lien’s father has a famous reputation for transporting goods. Shu Lien is also very good in her kung-fu but in opposite to Mu Bai, she is very experienced in life. She has already been betrothed to Meng Si Zhao. However, once she is home, she discovers that an old enemy of her father has attacked the family and killed her brother. Her father urges her to transport the last goods for him and she promises him that she would return in time for his ceremony of withdrawing from the mo lam world. She once again meets Mu Bai, who accidentally opens the goods and Shu Lien discovers that it is actually her father’s letter to her telling her to flee home since the enemy might seek her out. Shu Lien returns home but it is too late. Her whole family has been killed. Mu Bai escorts her to her fiancee’s house, only to find out that her fiancee has been killed in the capital city. Heartbroken and having nowhere to turn to, Shu Lien loses the will to live and even seeks death when her enemy drags her down the mountain. However, Mu Bai, who vows to never let her hand go has made her change her mind. Mu Bai has unknowingly fallen in love with Shu Lien. Before he leaves Wu Dan, Mu Bai’s only goal is to complete the mission and to return to the sect to become a monk. Yet, meeting Shu Lien, a very gentle, caring, and loyal woman has changed Mu Bai’s goal in life. He now longs to know the feeling of holding someone’s hand to eternity. Seeing her devastated state, her father-in-law drops hints that she should go the capital and visit a shop selling silk. Yet Shu Lien has also unknowingly fallen in love with Mu Bai.

During this time, in the border, there is a girl named Jiao Lung, who is a rebel at heart. She is betrothed to the son of a very powerful family in the capital city. However, Jiao Lung has a thirst for life and adventure. She has been secretly taught kung-fu by her teacher, Master Kao Lan Tsu, who happens to own a kung-fu scripture that belongs to Wu Dan sect. On his way to the capital city, Mu Bai befriends Master Kao who sees in him the potential to do something great. Master Kao is the leader of a secret sect that aims to overthrow the Emperor. He also wants to return the kung-fu scripture to Wu Dan.

One day, Jiao Lung disguises herself as a soldier and follows her father when he leads an army to attack the bandits. Jiao Lung comes to face with Xiao Ho and is humiliated when he discovers that she is a female. Jiao Lung vows to seek him out for revenge. However, she is attracted to his freedom and his carefree, adventurous lifestyle, the lifestyle that she would never have while he admires her unbreakable spirit. They fall in love with each other. Her father has been appointed a position in the capital by Prince Tai and her family moves to the city. Xiao Ho, who cannot fight his passion for her, deserts his gang and follows Jiao Lung.

Once in the city, Mu Bai and Shu Lien find out that her fiancee is still alive, however, he is living under a new identity and coldly rejects her. Mu Bai realises his love for Shu Lien yet knowing the true reason why Shu Lien’s fiancee rejects her (because he is involved in a secret sect led by Master Kao that aims to overthrow the emperor and he does not want her to be involved), Mu Bai cannot bring himself to express his feelings to Shu Lien though she feels very much attracted to him. Mu Bai, being an honest and kind-hearted man, even tries to bring Shu Lien and her fiancee together much to the frustration of everyone else.

Prince Tai adopts Shu Lien as his daughter because he sees her potential and values her loyalty. He also wants Mu Bai to work for him yet Mu Bai discovers that the Prince is a very cold-blooded, ambitious and scheming man who is planning to overthrow the emperor. So Prince Tai kills Shu Lien’s fiancee and casts the blame on Mu Bai. Shu Lien, blinded by her bitterness towards Mu Bai’s cold rejection and her loyalty to Prince Tai, vows to kill Mu Bai.

Meanwhile, Xiao Ho kidnaps Jiao Lung on her wedding’s day but soon after that, he discovers that her father was involved in the execution of his parents. He challenges Jiao Lung’s father but they come to an understanding instead and the hatred is resolved. Unfortunately, Jiao Lung’s father dies in the small earthquake. Jiao Lung thinks that Xiao Ho killed her father so she also vows to avenge her father’s death.

There is a myth associated with the Wu Dan kung-fu scripture and the Qing Ming sword as these two objects hold the key to a very valuable treasure. In order to open the door to the treasure, there is an additional condition must be met. There must be people who have the birth signs of Water, Fire, Earth and Wood and they must also know Wu Dan kung-fu. Those four persons are Mu Bai, Shu Lien, Xiao Ho, and Jiao Lung.

How will these love-hate relationships be resolved and how will Prince Tai get the four persons to open up the treasure for him?

Qiu Xin Zhi aka Li Mu Bai: he is a relatively new actor in Taiwan and I have only seen him in two series. These are "Bloody Pearls" and "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon". It is rare to find an actor who looks good in Qing dynasty costume and Qiu Xin Zhi is one of them. He is a handsome actor who has the right height, body build (may be a little bit too chubby). He always plays a very likeable character such as the devoted lover or a naturally good and honest man. However, I find that his character in Bloody Pearl has much more depth than Li Mu Bai. Shou Shan in Bloody Pearls knows precisely who he loves and how to get what he wants. I found Shou Shan a very realistic character, a man who is deluded all his life that his mother loves him, being rejected and scolded at very opportunity by his father but he still loves them, only to find out later that they have never really considered him as their son. This has driven him towards hate and a selfish notion that he should live for himself. Mu Bai, on the other hand, is too nice, too naïve and too idealistic to the level of frustration. He knows that he loves Shu Lien but must he make all the decisions regarding what he thinks would be good for her? I find him very didactic at some stages in the series. Shu Lien confesses her love for him many times but he rejects her because his principles do not allow him to steal the girlfriend of another person. However, he should have realised that the one she loves is him, not Meng Si Zhao. The character does not require a lot of acting ability from Qiu Xin Zhi as Mu Bai is a very mature and calm character who does not act on impulse nor expresses his emotion freely. Nevertheless, Qiu Xin Zhi is a talented actor and he has potential to rise to the top if he can choose his roles carefully and I shall look forward to see him in future productions.

Huang Yi aka Shu Lien: she is very young, pretty and fresh looking. This is the first time I have seen her in a series. However, Shu Lien did not disappoint me as she fits perfectly into the role of Shu Lien, a gentle, devoted, caring woman who has a very simple dream: to have a family of her own and to live a simple and contented life. Yet her life is not simple at all. Her whole family is killed, her fiancee puts her second to his ideals and patriotism and then she falls in love with Mu Bai who never confesses his love for her. We might be frustrated when we see her running back to Meng Si Zhao when Mu Bai refuses to admit his feelings towards her. However, we must understand that all Shu Lien wants is the life of a simple woman. Yet what I don’t understand is how she could believe the lie that Mu Bai killed Meng Si Zhao. If she loves him that much, she should have realised that Mu Bai would never be capable of committing such an act. That was the only flaw I find with this character. Huang Yi is occasionally exaggerated in her acting especially when she expresses her hatred towards Mu Bai.

Shui Ling aka Jiao Lung: Shui Ling plays her character with perfection. Having seen most of her series, such as "Tears in Heaven", "The White Hair Maiden", I have never really considered her a talented actress yet she has surely impressed me with her acting ability in this series. Jiao Lung is stubborn, headstrong, rebellious, and mischievous and Shui Ling was able to portray a young girl with unbreakable spirit very well and gave her character a charm that would surely capture the viewer’s attention.

Peter Ho aka Xiao Ho: a very young, tall and skinny actor. However, he looks alright with long hair and in his costume. I find his character’s actions a bit reckless at times. Yet it is understandable as Xiao Ho came from a very different background to Mu Bai. It is one of the reasons why Jiao Lung is attracted to him as he leads a wild and free life. He is also very passionate and is not afraid to declare his love for her. He would do anything to be with her. Peter Ho’s acting is exaggerated at times and if he is not careful, he might turn into another Steve Ma.

Zheng Chen Guang aka Prince Tai: Zheng Chen Guang once again proves himself to be a talented actor who can play different roles with ease. Though Prince Tai is the main villain of the series, a very ambitious, scheming, cold-blooded man, Zheng Chen Guang has managed to make his character look dignified, respectable and noble at the same time.

THE FAMOUS KISS: if you have already seen the series, you would know what I am talking about, the famous kiss between Xiao Ho and Jiao Lung. This couple is opposite to Mu Bai and Shu Lien. They are very passionate, never embarrassed or afraid to declare love to each other. While their passion can be compared to fire, Mu Bai and Shu Lien’s love is like water. The love between the latter couple is much more calm and restrained by many traditional thinking and misunderstandings. However, the director exploits this point too much. There is no need for too many kissing scenes to point out the obvious difference between two couples to the viewer. Peter Ho and Shui Ling do look compatible and there is on-screen chemistry between them, however, I always find kissing scenes in Chinese series, especially ancient series, to be very awkward. Those are the times when I don’t know whether to press fast-forward or divert my eyes from the TV. The idea to create a poll to vote for the worst kiss and the best kiss in Chinese series seems to be very appealing at the moment. Anyway, back to the famous kissing scene in which Shui Ling dangled upside down from a tree like a monkey while Peter Ho was riding on a horse towards her. Then they KISSED. I was amazed and speechless. The scene was hilarious to me at the time. Whoever thought of this way of kissing? And how can any man manage to ride a horse, aim for the mouth of someone hanging upside down from a tree and then kiss? I hope that you do not misinterpret my purpose of writing about this scene as a recommendation that you should try this act in your free time. I urge you not to try it yourself as it would be extremely difficult to find a tree that has the right height, a horse of right height, and to coerce your boyfriend into riding a horse or your girlfriend into dangling upside down from a tree, let alone trying not to break any facial bones or to injure your nose in the attempt to carry out the task.

THE ENDING: this is one of the entertaining series that end in catastrophe. I have never been more frustrated at an ending like this one in my life and I would gladly strangle any scriptwriter who managed to ruin a series this way. The ending was ridiculous in showing Mu Bai’s fight with his weakness. It was silly with all these nonsense talk about fight with his inner self and to never give up in life. When Mu Bai stood up and spread out his hands while these thoughts were running through his head, for one second I thought he had gone mad. However, I will not ruin this series for you by telling the ending, you have to watch it to appreciate the full ridiculousness of the ending.

Overall, the series was enjoyable. I must say that it is one of best ancient series recently. The cast is excellent, the scenery is beautiful, the fighting choreography is done very well. In addition, the plot is engaging and not dragging like other Taiwanese series, except for the ending. Most of the mysteries or misunderstanding between characters is resolved quickly which would surely leave the viewer with satisfaction. However, I did not understand why Wu Dan must give the sword to the Prince, do they seek protection and peace from him? If you have been fed up with boring Chinese series and decided to watch one last series before you would withdraw yourself from the "mo lam" world, this should be one of the series that you consider.

Screenshots ( Copyrighted).

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