The foreign film that could steal Oscar

By defaultuser
February 15, 2001

by Dr. Joseph Romano
guest writer

Imagine raw human power materialized in a single entity – a magical sword named by its noble martial arts master, `Green Destiny’. Imagine the mayhem caused when the power of this sword can serve good and evil alike, depending on who is wielding it. Quite simply this is the gist of this beautiful film that tells a symbolic tale of the eternal human struggle over good and evil. While accurately billed as a martial arts film, it supercedes the usual calisthenics frenzy of this genre, and reaches for an oft-told tale of human values by simply using martial arts as the vehicle of the message.

An insightful master of martial arts, Li Mu Bai, who would rather meditate than fight, is called back for one last combative reprieve when the sword is stolen by Jen Lu, the pupil of the wicked antagonist Jade Fox. Hanging in the balance of this epic struggle is control over the young and beautiful Jen, who might convert to goodness if the real master the true and noble Li Mu can successfully defeat the evil Jade Fox.

The nobility of the human effort in confronting evil is symbolized by yet another pairing of our hero. There is genuine love between the masterful Li Mu and his life-long colleague, a woman, Yu Shu Lein. The hero loves and is loved by Yu Shu, who is his equal in grace and beauty and fighting strength. She is a skilled and strong woman whose soft outer beauty reflects her inner spiritual beauty. But their love for each other must remain Platonic, since the physical strength of their mutual opposition to evil is in direct proportion to their chaste and honorable love for each other.

One hopes that this handsome twosome would collapse into each other’s deserving arms – but no. Evil must be fought on a plane higher than physical passions. All desires for earthly pleasures must be held in check. The chaste relationship of the two gives strength to a higher love needed to overcome evil. The inner balance and grace of the honorable spirit is dramatically and symbolically portrayed when the Hero duels with the young misguided pupil high in the trees. It is a surrealistic scene of beauty as the combatants thrust and parry high among the slender swaying boughs of the bamboo trees, as the master teaches the pupil a lesson in inner harmony and balance.

Love is given another test in a sub-plot involving the love of one nobly born for one of a lower class. The pupil, Jen – born of the upper crust and destined to an arranged marriage to a nobleman, falls in love with a young and handsome desert rat who has been scrounging out his survival with a rowdy band of lower class brigands. Love must conquer social stratification as well as personal evil.

The moral lessons are simplistically offered: Good versus evil; love and hate; truth and deception; honor and baseness; high bred and lowborn – all played out in spectacular scenes of mountains and forests and deserts. All ritualized through the skill of the martial arts in which combatants float through the air and skim roof tops in symbolic gestures of the inner lightness of their spirits.

Of course there is a final battle between good and evil. And whatever the outcome; bitter, sweet, or bittersweet – what with all the spectacular beauty of the scenes; with all the haunting sounds of the penetrating music; and with the handsome forms of the actors; one can’t help feeling that something good was witnessed.

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