When I first saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the theater I decided two things: 1) I wanted to listen to the soundtrack album on CD, and 2) I wanted to read the series of novels upon which the movie was based. The first goal was easy to achieve, but the second was problematic because the novels had not (and have not, as far as I know) been translated into English. There was, however, a graphic novel series, published by HK Comics Limited, which had. The five books of the series (I-V) are adapted in the following volumes (1-12):
I. Crane Frightens KunLun [1-4]
II. Precious Sword, Golden Hairpin [5-8]
III. Sword Force, Pearl Shine [9-12]
IV. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [movie]
V. Iron Knight, Silver Vase [???]
I have been speaking recently (on "What Comics Have You Read Today?") about buying certain series on "faith", i.e, buying them without reading them with the intention of reading them all at once at a later date when I'm in the mood. (That "when I'm in the mood" point can be a stickler.) I've had these for 20 years and I'm finally in the mood. First, let's look at the credits.
Author: Andy Seto
Story: Wang Du Lu
Script Writer: So Man Sing
Wang Du Lu is the man who wrote the novels. If So Man Sing wrote the script, what is it exactly that Andy Seto does? Andy Seto is the artist. In every volume he provides a "diary" (or "editorial"). At one point, he laments having left so much "dialogue" ("plot"?) out of the adaptation of the first book (graphic novel volumes 1-4). [After the graphic novel series was completed, a second version of the adaptation of the first book (which I never saw) was released with the missing "dialogue".] From Seto's "diaries", I gather that he is working full script, and when he leaves out "dialogue", I take it that he is in full editorial control, and the decision of how much dialogue/plot to include in the breakdowns is his. I could be wrong, though; I'm just guessing.
The art includes colors never seen on the palette of an American comic book.
I'll bet Jack Kirby would have remained at Marvel had the credits read thusly:
Author: Jack Kirby
Script Writer: Stan Lee
...(which is not to diminish the contributions of either Stan Lee or So Man Sing).
Governor Yu sets up a match between Long Gao and Li Mu Bai to settle once and for all whether or not Long Gao stole the Book of Sacred forms and murdered Nan Chang. (Supposedly, Long Gao would not be able to defeat Li Mu Bai if he learned Wudan Kung Fu from a book so, if he wins, he is innocent. I don't quite follow that reasoning, but everyone involved seems happy with it, so whatever.) This entire volume is given over to the fight. Rather than me trying to describe the battle, here's what Andy Seto has to say about it.
"Until now, I have been concerned with our Western readers' ability to accept drawings that depict dramatic Kung Fu moves while at the same time being aware that Chinese readers were looking for more powerful moves. Our Western audiences have been reading our comic books for over two years now and I believe that they are now ready to be exposed to more dramatic Kung Fu moves. So in this volume, a very powerful battle is depicted between Li Mu Bai and Long Gao. In addition to describing the steps of the Chinese 'Eight Diagrams of Tai Chi', I have also illustrated a very high level of Kung Fu fighting. I hope that both Chinese and Western readers alike will appreciate it!"
Li Mu Bai and Long Gao are very evenly matched. Whatever move Li Mu Bai tries, Long Gao counters it. Eventually, Li Mu Bai tries a move that goes beyond the Book of Sacred forms and Long Gao is defeated. Because he is protecting Jade Fox, Long gao insists on fighting to the death. He collapses and has no pulse, but Li Mu Bai is able to revive him briefly with his chi. Long Gao's last request is that Li Mu Bai give up his investigation into the death of Nan Chang for just one day, to which Li Mu bai agrees.
Li Mu Bai narrates: "Shu Lien and I rode away leaving the Yu's household. Under the beautiful sky, I thought I understood a little bit more about the meaning of life."
Jade Fox continues to teach Jen Yu although Jen's abilities have far outpaced Jade's. Jen slips and reveals the full extent of her power via the use of the "iron fingers" technique. Jade presses Jen to reveal the secret: the Da Shang pressure point in the index finger is the primary source and the Da Ze pressure point in the middle finger is secondary. Jade tries this technique and the result is 70% as successful as when Jen uses it. Jen leaves her to practice, but after a while Jade begins to suspect that Jen lied. Jade experiments with reversing the source points which yields still more powerful results. \
After a day's worth of practice, the reversed technique has taken both a physical as well as a mental toll. Jade still doesn't know which is the correct technique, so she confronys a Wudan priest in hope he might be able to tell her. He cannot, and she ends up accidentally killing him. Jen urges her not to use the "evil" iron fingers technique lest it turn her to the dark (from the balance of Yin and Yang). In her confidence, Jade Fox reveals herself to Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien. A violent fight ensures with no clear winner. At one point, Jade's power causes Li Mu Bai to "travel in time" and witness her murder of his master. Nearby buildings are destroyed by as their chi combines and expands. Later, Li worries that his encounter with Jade will drive him to the dark side.
By this time, foreign forces have invaded Xin Jiang, and Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien are again staying in Governor Yu's household. Jen Yu suggests that her father hire Dark Cloud, her lover, to fight on their side. He does, but Dark Cloud has not yet made a legitimate name for himself so the two lovers are unable to bring their relationship into the open. Sir Te is the general in charge of the royal army. His men have come under attack by Dashing Arrow, who uses a huge and deadly accurate bow and arrow to eliminate his foes from great distances.
Yu Shu Lien has not yet heard from her fiance. The governor offers to intercede with her father to call off the engagement so that she may marry Li Mu Bai. She has long since given up hope of finding her fiance, yet she refuses the governor's offer. She plans to serve her country first then, after the war, make a decision. Li Mu Bai and Sir Te have a mock battle. Sir Te uses Li's Emerald Destiny sword, but Li wins the match. Jade secretly meets with Golden Spear, her lover, who has allied himself with the leaders of the invaders, Dashing Arrow, Invincible Axe and Despotic Knife.
Jen Yu stabs Dark Cloud then forces Jade Fox to stab her in a ploy to convince her father that Darl Cloud saved her life. Jen's plan is for Dark Cloud to join her father's army, thereby making him eligible for her to marry. She asks Jade Fox to relay the request to Governor Yu but Jade Fox, because she wants to keep Jen under her control until Jade can acquire the secrets of Wudan Kung Fu, doesn't do it.
Ever since Li Mu Bai fought Jade Fox he has been infected with an evil spirit. The mysterious man who has been watching him is revealed to be Qi Tian, a groom in Governor Yu's stables and master of Shaolin Kung Fu. One night, Li Mu Bai's battle against the evil forces becomes so great it causes the horses to stampede. Qi Tian reveals himself and much of the narrative is given over to the differences between Wudan (Taoist) and Shaolin (Buddhist) styles of Kung Fu. Qi Tian offers to help Li Mu Bai recover using Shaolin techniques, but he refuses. The evil forces take control of the owls causing them to attack the fish in the pond, waking the whole household.
When Yu Shu Lien arrives, she is unable to see the evil spirits. She and Chou Mong assist by transferring their chi to Li Mu Bai in an attempt to stabilize his condition. Jen Yu petitions her father to accept Dark Cloud Lo in Li Mu Bai's place alongside Sir Te. Meanwhile, Dark Cloud is visited by the spirit of Long Gao , who sends him to assist Li Mu Bai.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon reminds me quite a bit of Star Wars, but also Iron Fist (obviously) and Kung Fu (the TV show). The volume I just finished veers more into "Doctor Strange" territory (Ditko's, from Strange Tales), but all of these stories draw from the same sources to one extent or another.
With the help of Long Gao and Dark Cloud Lo, Li Mu Bai finally defeats the evil spirits. This leads to a falling out between Dark Cloud and Jen Yu, who cannot believe that the spirit of Long Gao (Jen's teacher as well as Dark Cloud's benefactor) would assist the man she holds responsible for his death.
Next, Li Mu Bai falls into a trap set by Jade Fox which pits him against the four commanders of the invaders. But through the training of his spiritual state and the harnessing of of his chi, Li Mu Bai is able to achieve the supreme state of unity of heaven and human and opens a space warp to escape. the evil spirits again manifest as owls to lead the invader commanders to him, while simultaneously tempting Li Mu Bai to succumb to their power.
Qi Tian and Yu Shu Lien follow Li Mu Bai. Qi Tian admits that he is really Chou Mong, the fiance Yu shu Lien has been searching for all this time. He recognizes her love for Li Mu Bai and releases her from her obligation to marry him. Golden Arrow attacks, and Chou Mong blocks Yu Shu Lien with his own body, using the "Iron Clothes" technique of the shaolin school to save himself. They defend themselves against the four leaders of the invaders, all while being attacked by "evil fish" manifestations.
Meditating inside a tree (and resisting "evil owl" manifestations), Li Bu Bai senses Yu Shu Lien's dangers and uses the "Tai Chi Hand" Kung Fu he developed to open a warp to her side. Li Mu Bai, Yu Shu Lien and Chou Mong fight the four invaders while the text dives deep into Chinese theology. The spiritual manifestation of Long Gao leads Jen Yu and Dark Cloud Lo to the scene of the battle. the good guys use their "Light Foot" Kung Fu to skip across the surface of a river while the bad guys pursue them on logs.
Chou Mong transfers his "Iron Clothes" Kung fu to protect Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lein but is mortally wounded in the process. "Honey" (one of the horses tended to by Chou Mong in his guise as Qi Tian) carries Jen Yu and Dark Cloud to his side. Li Mu Bai uses his "Tai Chi Hand" Kung Fu to summon his sword, Green Destiny, out of thin air. He gives it to Li Mu Bai to avenge her "husband." Long story short, the invaders are defeated, and Li Mu Bai is with Yu Shu Lien, and Jen Yu is with Dark Cloud Lo.
THE MOVIE: Ang Lee's film does not fit seamlessly with the graphic novel series, but it comes pretty close. The director could not count upon his audience being familiar with the previous three books in the series, so the pertinent points of those books have been folded into the movie (some as flashbacks). I also suspect he incorporated parts of Iron Knight, Silver Vase in as well, because it has a pretty definitive ending. (I hope he did, anyway, otherwise I'll never know the ending.) The character of Long Gao was left out of the film completely, and the characterization of Jade fox was handled somewhat differently. It's not necessary to have read the graphic novels to enjoy the movie, but they certainly add a lot to the experience. Anyone reading the graphic novel series will definitely want to follow it up with the film.