Michelle Yeoh deliberately did not work for a year before filming began so she could concentrate on training and learning Mandarin.
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The actors almost invariably performed their own stunts. CGI was used to remove the wires holding them up.
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"Crouching tiger hidden dragon" is a quote from Chinese mythology. It refers to hiding your strength from others -- advice which is followed all too well by the characters in the film.
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The film was an adaptation of the fourth novel in a pentalogy, or five-novel cycle, known in China as the Crane/Iron Pentalogy and written by noted wuxia (kung-fu) novelist Du Lu Wang. The novels are "Crane Frightens Kunlun," "Precious Sword, Golden Hairpin," "Sword's Force, Pearl's Shine," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and "Iron Knight, Silver Vase." Much of the story is not about Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien; they are in fact secondary characters who only become important later in the series. When a comic book adaptation of the fourth book in the pentalogy was slated, illustrator Andy Seto rewatched the film to get inspiration for how to depict the fight scenes.
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While Ziyi Zhang's character is obviously highly trained and skillful in martial arts, the actress herself never had any official martial arts training at all. Instead, she used her dance techniques to learn her moves in these scenes as if they were a dance rather than a fight (which, in terms of creating and filming them, is actually not that far from the truth).
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The four main actors all spoke Mandarin, but with different accents. Yun-Fat Chow had a Cantonese accent, Michelle Yeoh had a Malaysian/English accent, Ziyi Zhang had a Beijing accent, and Chen Chang had a Taiwanese accent. Because of the difficulty some Chinese-speaking markets had with the voices, some markets actually had a dubbed version (into standard Mandarin) of the soundtrack.
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Taiwanese-born Hong Kong actress Qi Shu was originally cast in Ziyi Zhang's role of Jen Yu and worked on the film for several weeks, until her agent pulled her from the movie to do a Pepsi commercial in Japan. She has since changed agents.
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Director Ang Lee described the film as "a dream of China...that probably never existed."
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The Green Destiny Sword used in the movie, along with other weapons in the movie, were made in Taiwan. The swordsmith was actually a neighbor of Ang Lee in his current residence in Tainan, Taiwan.
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This was the only martial arts film to date to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
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Dun Tan had only two weeks to compose and record the musical score.
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According to Yun-Fat Chow, he had to do twenty-eight takes of his first scene on the first day of shooting, because he had such difficulty speaking Mandarin. When asked in an interview with TIME Magazine how he felt about his Mandarin pronunciation, he replied, "It's awful."
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Michelle Yeoh tore her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) during the shooting of an early fighting sequence and had to be flown to the United States for knee surgery. She returned to the set at different times to film non-action scenes until her knee had recovered.
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The embroidered dress that Ziyi Zhang wore in her opening scene took two months to make by four qualified embroiderers.
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In 2001, this became the first foreign language film to earn over $100 million in the United States.
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The film holds the record for the most Oscar nominations for a foreign language film along with Roma (2018) with 10 nominations. Additionally, it shares the record for most Oscar wins by a foreign language film with Fanny and Alexander (1982). Both films won four awards.
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Director Ang Lee pitched the film to Michelle Yeoh as "Sense and Sensibility (1995) with martial arts."
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The scenes shot in the Gobi Desert were constantly interrupted by rain.
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The film's action choreographer, Woo-Ping Yuen, was also responsible for the fighting sequences in The Matrix (1999) and its progeny.
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Ziyi Zhang studied calligraphy for several months, along with her other training, for the movie.
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(At around 1 hour, 5 minutes) At the cave scene, Lo sings a song. This song is in one of the old Turkish languages (probably the Uyghur language), which still can be understood in today's Turkish language. It is something along the lines of, "...yiriliyorida, gordum su guzel kiz havar guni, ...bu guzel aylari, ey guzel kiz havali kiz." It means, "...while she was singing softly, I saw that beautiful girl when sun goes down, ...this beautiful months, You beautiful girl, cool girl."
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The first draft of the screenplay said, "You will note in the script that none of the fight scenes are described, and I will just inform you now that they will be the greatest fight scenes ever in the history of cinema, period."
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A computer mock-up of what Yun-Fat Chow would look like as a bald man was generated before the actor agreed to shave off all his hair.
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In Chinese, Lo's name is "Little Tiger" and Jen's name is "Gorgeous Dragon."
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Michelle Yeoh did not speak Mandarin. The script was presented to her phonetically with help from Mandarin-speaking crew members. In fact, her Malaysian accent can be heard throughout. Yun-Fat Chow did speak Mandarin (his first language is Cantonese), but native Mandarin speakers thought his accent was strained and overdone.
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According to old Taiwanese newspapers, there was a Taiwanese-speaking movie in 1959 called "Luo Xiao Hu and Yu Jiao Long," an earlier adaptation of Du Lu Wang's novel. The old newspapers noted that this version was also a martial arts film. The leading actress, Hsiao Yan-Chiou, was originally a traditional Taiwanese opera actress. After the movie was released, Hsiao married, leaving "Luo Xiao Hu and Yu Jiao Long" as her last movie. The film is thought to be no longer in existence now, and it seems to hold no connection with Ang Lee's "Wo Hu Cang Long," except for the adaptation source.
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The Green Destiny Sword Li Mu Bai carries translates to Green Dark World Sword, a place where the dead go. The "Mu" in Li Mu Bai's name translates to a kind of positive jealousy or longing, as in wanting something but probably never getting it.
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Director Ang Lee found the intensity of shooting this film to be so high, he took up smoking again.
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This was the highest-grossing foreign language movie in American film history.
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(At around 15 minutes) In the first night scene, Bo meets two night-watchmen who later give two knocks on clappers/rods, indicating that it was the second watch of the night. The first watch begins at 7 P.M., and each watch is two hours long, so it was after 9 P.M. when Jen first sneaks into Sir Te's residence. If the number of times the night-watchmen sounds the small cymbal/gong was shown, the audience would know more precisely what time it was between 9-11 P.M.
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(At around 5 minutes) The stamped documents shown by Shu Lien to the guards at the city-gate before she enters Beijing shows the date "in the 43rd year of the reign of (Emperor) Qianlong, the sixth month, the eighth day," which is the year A.D. 1778, somewhere in June or July.
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Director Ang Lee commented that originally, he did not wish for Shu Lien to wield the heavy two-handed straight sword against Jen. This was consistent within the movie, as Shu Lien indicates her preference of the "dao," the saber with a broad, curved blade, instead of the straight-bladed "jian," Li Mu Bai's weapon of choice. The Green Destiny is itself a jian.
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Jet Li was originally cast to play Li Mu Bai but turned the part down to appear in Romeo Must Die (2000). The role was next offered to Hong Kong singer/actor Leon Lai, but he also turned it down.
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The film is ranked #10 in the Hong Kong Film Awards' List of The Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures (March 2005).
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The film has the most number of Academy Award nominations to date for any foreign language film nominated for Best Picture.
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(aA around 3 minutes) In the hall where Shu Lien first meets Li Mubai, there are two large sets of couplets hung on the wall behind them. The inner couplet reads, "(right) The Tall (Qiao) Tree spreads thousands of branches, but don't they have the same roots; (left) the Long (Yangtze) River flows into tens of thousand of distributaries, but all have the same source," and it is about maintaining harmony. The outer couplet reads, "(right) In Spring and Autumn sacrifices, follow the Ancient Sages' Rites and Customs; (left) Arraying Left and Right, trace One Family's Generations of Continuity," and it is about maintaining tradition.
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The film was re-released in Barcelona (Phenomena) in 2016 and was in a subtitled version and 35 mm copy. It was only projected for one day.
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Ranked number 78 non-English-speaking film in the critics' poll conducted by the BBC in 2018.
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