When The Master Is Not Master:
The Critique of Enlightenment in Ang Lee's
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

by J. Heath Atchley


1. "Weathering," in The Really Short Poems of A. R. Ammons (New York: Norton, 1992), p. 1.

2. Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching, trans. Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), 26.

 3. Ang Lee & James Schamus, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: A Portrait of the Ang Lee Film (New York: New Market Press, 2000), p. 40.

4. Ibid, p. 30.

5. Ibid.

6. For a particularly vivid example see The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writing, trans. Philip Yampolsky (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971).

7. The Sutra of Hui-Neng, trans. A.F. Price &Wong Mou-lam (Boston: Shambhala, 1990), p. 72.

8. Ibid, 70.

9. Immanuel Kant, "What Is Enlightenment?" in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Lewis White Beck (New York: Library of the Liberal Arts, 1959), pp.85-92. See also a more recent translation of this essay in Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 17-22.

10. Ibid, p. 17.

11. At the end of the essay, Kant distances himself from the radical implications of this point, claiming that restrictions on political freedom are necessary for freedom of thought to flourish.

12. Michel Foucault, "What is Enlightenment?", trans. Mathew Henson (1992).  This text can also be found in...

13. This notion of a general structure to enlightenment is inspired by John Caputo's reading of Derrida, in which he argues that the French philosopher has created a "generalized apophatics," that is an apophatic discourse that does not occur within a discrete tradition of negative theology. With my idea of a general structure of enlightenment, I do not mean to suggest that Western philosophical enlightenment and Buddhist enlightenment are identical nor there is a universal form of enlightenment; I mean to highlight some striking similarities between Western philosophical and Buddhist enlightenments and to note how both of these concepts can affect those of us who dwell in a pluralistic culture. See Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1997), pp. 26-56.

14. Contrast this to the flight found in Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon (New York: Dutton Signet, 1987). Morrison writes of a legendary tribe of Africans enslaved in the American Southeast in which, shortly after they are emancipated by a white President, all the men lift off and fly back to Africa, leaving their women and children behind. This escape becomes a myth embedded in children's songs. Several generations later, the novel's protagonist, an immature male named Milkman, discovers that the story, the mythos, within these songs is his. Ironically, he finds his roots in a tribe of missing fathers who flew home to the motherland. More importantly, however, he realizes that his aunt, a bootlegger and healer provocatively named Pilate, could fly without ever leaving the ground. The flying fighters of Crouching Tiger more closely resemble Morrison's Pilate than her tribe of flying slaves.

15. Lee and Schamus, p. 84.

16. Ibid, p. 82.

17. Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), p. 12.

18. Ibid, p. xv.

19. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin, 1976), p. 304.

20. Lee and Schamus, p. 79.

21. Wu xia films have not been totally absent of female fighters. Chang Pei Pei, who plays Jade Fox, has made a career out of Wu xia roles.

22. I am grateful to TOM McCabe for this insight into the interactions between Lo and Jen.

23. Slavoj Zizek, The Fright of Real Tears: Krysztof Kieslowski Between Theory and Post-Theory (London: British Film Institute, 2000), p. 9.

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