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Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

A couple months ago I was discussing the presidential election with a friend of mine and somehow the subject of spirituality and Buddhism came up. But during the discussion I realized I didn’t really know that much about Buddhism except that their spiritual figurehead, the Buddha, isn’t a “God” in the Jesus sense of religion. He’s more of just a regular guy who achieved a perfect state of enlightenment, a state that practitioners of Buddhism aspire to attain themselves.

Beyond that, tho’, I didn’t know much else so I asked my friend, who generally seems well read, if he could recommend an introductory book about Buddhism. He suggested “Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das. Don’t let the funny name fool you. This Lama (meaning teacher) is actually a nice Jewish boy from Long Island who “went hippy” back in the ’60s and sort of just fell into Buddhism. He then fully committed himself to the Buddhist life, including enduring two 3-year-plus back-to-back meditation retreats.

While I found the book very informative and well written, I also realized that I have already been living a fairly Buddhist life. To practice Buddhism, one doesn’t have to convert to the Buddhist religion like one would if he or she were to convert to Christianity or Judaism. A person doesn’t have to accept Buddha as his “savior” or have to attend church or go to temple or anything like that. While a person can declare himself “a Buddhist” and follow the Buddhist religion, a person can also be a Christian or a Jew or an atheist and still follow Buddhist teachings. In fact, Surya Das seems to encourage just that. So, when in his book Surya Das would give examples of the Buddhist lifestyle I would often find myself saying, “Well, I already do that.”

Surya Das discusses how in Buddhism the quest for spiritual enlightenment is uncovering the peace, love and happiness that is within us all, rather than searching for comfort in the outside world. It’s not really important what others think of us or we’re not going to find contentment from having a certain amount of money or a certain kind of job or being in a certain kind of relationship if we are not happy and content with ourselves first.

This all sounds fairly hippy-ish and the image I’ve usually had in my head of Americans who search for “enlightenment” is that glassy eyed, not all the oars in the water, suspiciously drugged out kind of look. However, as Surya Das was explaining things, I found myself relating to the Buddhist philosophy or spirituality because I’m fairly content with being myself. I don’t spend a lot of time or energy looking for the “perfect relationship”. I also tend to take pride and make myself useful in whatever job I have instead of just looking for a big paycheck or try to figure out what the world owes me because I hold a certain position in it.

But that doesn’t mean I closed the book and said, “Alright, I don’t need this shit because I’m perfect already.” I really just bought the book to give myself an anthropology lesson. However, by the time I was done with it I started realizing there were ways I could better myself if I started to actively use some of the Buddhist mind control lessons.

That’s just me, tho’, and maybe I’m easily swayed. However, one of the more striking passages in the book that has stuck with me was about the children of Tibet. Surya Das made the comparison that here in the United States our kids dream about becoming rock stars, movie stars or sports stars while Tibetan children fantasize and hope to become enlightened. And it made me start to think that maybe it’s a shame that things like Buddhism aren’t commonly taught in our schools. Not that everyone should drop everything and rush out and become a Buddhist and strive for enlightenment, but there’s something about the philosophy that just seems to make sense.

In CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, Chow Yun-Fat stars as a martial arts master who gives up his quest for enlightenment because he can’t let go of his earthly attachment to Michelle Yeoh. And once you see Michelle kick some serious ass in this film, you’ll understand Chow Yun-Fat’s dilemma.

CROUCHING TIGER is directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Ang Lee, who tends to make irresistibly entertaining films. I did miss his last film, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, but his EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN and THE ICE STORM, to me are classics. But they are very “internal”, subtle films about the pain and beauty in familial and romantic relationships. CROUCHING TIGER is an artsy kung fu flick, with amazing action sequences with an interesting, complicated story. The film is something that Hollywood hasn’t been able to do in a very, very, very long time: It’s an intelligent action movie with genuine, heartfelt relationships between the characters.

It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind flick and highly recommended.