Writers and editors alike at Schema Magazine gathered together for a screening of the recently released Netflix movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. This movie was highly anticipated among the members of our circles and the larger general public.
The centrality of female lead characters to the narrative of the story was perhaps what was the most striking and appealing aspect of the movie. It was refreshing to see Asian actresses fulfilling English-speaking roles that were not focused on their ethnicity or accent but rather, their character’s physical skill and personal journey. So distinct and impressive were these women that the rest of this article will be dedicated entirely to highlighting three in particular from the film.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Mantis, played by Ngô Thanh Vân.
This girl displayed a ridiculous amount of strength and martial arts skill. She single handedly wiped out nearly all of the Silent Wolf’s team of fighters. While each member of the team the Mantis killed was a sorrowful blow to the morale of those guarding the Green Sword, the Mantis remained ruthless and unapologetically deadly. Her lethal blows reflected fluid dexterity with the sword and body that made grown men quiver.
Snow Vase, played by Natasha Liu Bordizzo.
Snow was an intensely loyal and independent character. Growing up, she trained with Jen Yu. Jen was not her birth mother but regardless, Snow was treated as a true child. The love Snow had for this woman reflected in the intense purposefulness of Snow’s actions after Jen died and left behind a single mission for her to follow. Find Jen Yu’s son and protect him if he is good; kill him if he is not.
Snow prevails and even initially intends on avenging her foster mother’s death by wielding the Green Sword that will give her the power to defeat Hades Dai, the man that murdered Jen. Snow has a loyalty and strength to persevere that was not dependent upon the love of a man but simply by her own motivation to fulfill and honour her mother’s memory.
Yu Shu Lien, played by Michelle Yeoh.
Leader. Yu is a leader. She is the one to take charge in securing the temple for an impending attack by West Lotus forces. She is the one to spearhead plans to journey out with the Green Sword and transfer the powerful weapon to a safe haven. Her ability to take action is coupled with her intelligence and wisdom that helps her read people quickly and take the advice of others humbly.
Yu agrees to take upon Snow as her student and further train her in the ways of martial arts. However, as mentioned, Snow has a vengeful ulterior motive and this is something that while unspoken, Yu picks up on. Her awareness goes even further to see some kind of mysterious relationship between Snow and the prisoner, Tiefang, who is really Snow’s half brother.
In another scene, after being put off by Yu’s refusal to let her join in journeying out of the temple gates with the Green Sword, Snow criticizes Yu for not being courageous and owning up to her romantic feelings for Silent Wolf. Instead of getting defensive, Yu calmly bites back her tongue and contemplates. In a few short scenes afterwards, Yu explains that she will be speaking with Silent Wolf on the matter of his continued companionship and eventually, confesses entirely her desire to have him stay by her side.
Yu displays characteristics of wisdom, humility, and courage that enhance her identity as a pronounced leader. Having characters like Yu’s for women and especially young girls to look up to, and aspire to be like in some ways, puts a healthy focus on the ways being a female does not mean taking the back seat or passively standing in someone else’s shadow.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a movie that presents a surprisingly rare set of cast members in which the female cast members are the leads. They have supporting male cast members that in no way takeaway from or excessively exaggerate the commendable skills and independence of character such as Mantis, Snow Vase, and Yu Shu Lien.