Back in 2000, director Ang Lee managed to combine operatic drama with stunning, elaborate martial-arts fight scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Adapted from the novel of the same name, the film won multiple awards and helped legitimize the martial-arts genre for mainstream audiences in the West. With the sequel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, set to hit Netflix Friday, February 26, here’s a look back at some surprising facts from the ambitious, visionary movie that started it all.
The movie’s source material was adapted out of order
While the film borrows elements from earlier parts in the series, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is based on the fourth book in the five-part Crane-Iron pentalogy, written by Chinese novelist Wang Dulu and released between 1938 and 1942. A resident of Beijing, Dulu began writing mystery novels in the early 1930s, eventually having more than 50 books published before quitting writing to become a school teacher in 1949. Outside of a comic-book adaptation, as well as a handful of online summaries — including one on actress Michelle Yeoh’s website, there are no official English translations of the Crane-Iron books.
It’s also worth noting that Sword of Destiny is both a sequel to the 2000 film as well as an adaptation of Dulu’s novel Iron Knight, Silver Vase, the fifth book in the series.
It achieved a few movie milestones
Among its many achievements, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the first martial-arts film to be nominated for Best Picture, and ended up scoring a total of 10 Academy Award nominations and four wins that year, including Best Foreign Language Film. Speaking of, it’s also the first foreign-language film to gross more than $100 million in the U.S., where it’s still the highest-grossing foreign-language film of all time. Interestingly enough, Ang Lee had considered shooting an English-language version of the film at first, but later told The Guardian that doing so would’ve been a “waste of time.”
Jet Li was set to star at one point
The actor was originally considered the top choice for the role of Li Mu Bai, given that he was the first name you thought of when making a martial-arts film at the time. Li opted to make Romeo Must Die instead, and it was then offered to Korean actor Leon Lai, who also turned it down. Only then did they offer the role to Chow Yun-Fat, an unconventional choice, considering he had never done a period piece or so much as held a sword before.
Chow Yun-Fat had difficulty with his character’s dialect
All four principle actors spoke Mandarin in the film, but each had distinctly different accents. Chow Yun-Fat, in particular, had difficulty with the language thanks to his Cantonese dialect. This clashed with Ang Lee’s famous perfectionism and Chow’s first scene required a whopping 28 takes, with Chow calling the whole experience “awful.” In the end, he re-recorded his dialogue in post-production in order to better focus on his accent.
Michelle Yeoh took her preparation very seriously
After Lee pitched the film to actress Michelle Yeoh as “Sense and Sensibility with martial arts,” (Lee directed a movie adaptation of Austen’s novel in 1995), she took a year off to prepare, undergoing intense physical training while also learning to speak Mandarin. For the latter, the script had to be presented to her phonetically by native speakers on the crew. When it came to her character’s personality, she based it on the director’s wife, Yu Shu Lien.