Yu Shu Lien vs Jen Yu (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
I know I said that I was only going to post five duels, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to add a feminine touch to an otherwise male-only series of great film fights. This duel between Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) is from Ang Lee’s 2000 wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which paved the way for the genre’s eventual popularity in the West. Young, impetuous Jen has stolen the sword called Green Destiny, and Shu Lien demands that she return it, if not willingly then by force. Jen, feeling confident of her skills and knowing that she has a superior weapon, chooses to fight Shu Lien.
Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi both come from a dancing background, which is fitting considering the dance-like aspects of a film fight. We get to see Shu Lien wield a variety of Chinese weapons against the seemingly invincible Green Destiny. One particularly heavy weapon provides a moment of humour during the fight.
Overhead camera shots are used several times to show the sweeping movements of the two opponents. This is an uncommon angle in fight scenes, where the camera tends to face the actors in profile. There’s also not as much wirework here as there is in more extravagant wuxia fights. Most of the action rests on the natural agility of the actors and stunt people. These ladies go as hard and as fast as the boys.
Despite Jen’s arrogance (Shu Lien accuses her of having a significant advantage with the Green Destiny), Shu Lien finally lands a well-placed blow that would have killed Jen if not for Shu Lien’s restraint. The older woman is clearly the better fighter.
With that, this series of posts on great film duels comes to an end. It is by no means a definitive selection, and I’m sure I’ve omitted many worthy candidates, especially unarmed fights. But this was never going to be an exhaustive coverage of movie fights. Hopefully the few examples I chose have demonstrated the aesthetic qualities of a well-executed fight scene. May the artform’s future hold more magnificent duels that equal, even surpass, the best that already exist.