Theatrical release: December 8, 2000.
Filmed on location in the Gobi Desert, Taklamakan Plateau, Urumchi, the Bamboo Forest in Anji, and Cheng De, with the permission of the Chinese government.
Estimated budget: $15 million.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON grossed more in its opening weekend in North America than any previous foreign film--more than $660,000, in a limited release, and in February 2001 became the highest-grossing foreign film in U.S. history as it soared past the $80 million mark. As of mid-April its total was nearly $120 million.
Out of the 100 days of shooting, 80 were devoted to the fight scenes. The action sequences comprise 30 minutes of the 119-minute film.
On his reason for making this film, Lee told the New York Daily News, "I'd always known I wanted to do martial arts. It was a boyhood fantasy. But the book [on which the film is based] had other ingredients I felt were very unusual for Chinese drama. It had strong female characters. It's an emotional tour. And it also had abundant insight into the old, classic Chinese society, which was very important to me."
The actors speak Mandarin Chinese to keep the film as authentic as possible. Only one of the principal cast members--Zhang Ziyi--knew the mainland Mandarin dialect in which the script is written; not even Lee is fluent in the dialect, which is associated with a golden age of wuxia films. In an interview for the Asian edition of Time magazine, Yeoh said, "I don't think I studied this hard even for exams. Every single word needs the right intonation. I'd deliver a sixteen-line speech, get one word slightly wrong, and Ang would say, 'Let's do it all again.' I'd say, 'Can't we just do the one word again?' 'No, let's do it all.' So many times I thought, 'I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid, why are you using me?' But it builds character."
Among the most important jobs on the film was the wire removal specialist, who was responsible for eliminating all the wires from the film negative to make it appear that the actors were actually floating and flying through the fight scenes.
Lee originally wanted Shu Qi to play Jen. Lee had to ask Zhang Ziyi's acting school for permission to use her. Lee also originally wanted Jet Li to play Li Mu Bai. After Chow took on the role, the part's action sequences were downplayed and Li's romance with Yu was emphasized. Chow had never appeared in a swordplay movie before. When Chow flew into Beijing for filming, customs was shut down for 45 minutes because the officials wanted his autograph.
The five-part novel on which the film was based was written before World War II. Because mainland books had been banned in Taiwan, Lee did not read the novel until 1994. After he read the series, he knew he wanted to adapt the books into a film but had to wait until he made three more films before he got the green light. Most of the film is based on book four of the series, which is also called CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Jen's character is roughly the same, while Li was from book two of the series. Lee invented the character of Yu Shu Lien.
Screenwriter James Schamus, who does not know Chinese, did not read the novel by Wang; instead, Lee provided him with a summary of the events he wanted to portray. Schamus wrote the script in English, which was then translated into Chinese. The script was translated into English and Chinese several more times as revisions were made. Schamus's coscreenwriters, Tsai Kuo-jung and Wang Hui-ling, helped make the dialogue more culturally relevant. Lines such as "I love you" were transformed into the much more culturally specific "I would rather be a ghost, drifting by your side." In an interview that appears with the screenplay for the film, Schamus said, "The Chinese embedded in every word of this movie has layers and layers of culture and meanings. They simply don't exist to a Western ear. It is one of the truly delicious ironies of this movie that although I cowrote it, I'll never fully understand all of its meanings."
Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film 2000
Academy Awards Best Cinematography 2000 Peter Pau Hong Kong Director of Photography, CROUCHING TIGER (2000)
Academy Awards Best Original Score 2000 Tan Dun Hong Kong Film Composer, CROUCHING TIGER (2000)