In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, tradition oppresses individuals and their relationships, yet it also empowers. Jen is oppressed by the confines of tradition, and her traditional role as a female oppresses her relationship with Lo. Li Mu Bai, however, is empowered by the guidance of tradition. Ang Lee uses film techniques to present this dual affect. Tradition cleaves Jen from her fighting talents. Jens parents force her to marry, but have no parental role; Lee restricts their presence in the film, and so isolates the tradition they carry. Hence Lee conveys that tradition oppresses Jen because it is an unhuman law passed by unhuman parents.
Further, Lee contrasts Jens behaviour as a fighter with her behaviour at her parents home, a motif of tradition. The homes silent rooms, plain walls, and the heavy servants clothing are symbols of Jens restricted future, for Jen is no fighter at homeshe writes calligraphy and drinks tea. Lee captures such contrast to suggest that tradition oppresses Jen because it confines her. But Jen breaks these confines: in place of her family, she adopts Jade Fox as her mother and Shu Lin as her sister, in place of her home, she escapes to the desert with Lo.
In the vast red and orange desert, where there are no confines, Jen fights; her flying-style suggests Jen is defying the gravity of tradition. In the love scene, Lo removes Jens oppression when he removes her traditional clothing, the exposed skin symbolises Jens freedom, her true happiness. She also lets her hair out and wears Los clothing, symbolic of her discard of tradition. Hence Lee uses the change in Jens character, in her decision to reject tradition, as a means of highlighting the extent of her oppression at home.
The feminine order of tradition becomes a barrier between Jen and Lo, oppressing their relationship. As Jen combs her hair, she triggers a flashback to the desert where Lo flirts with her as he steals her comb. Lee uses Jens comb as a symbol of her feminine relationship with Lo, and Los return of the comb as a strengthening of their relationship. Back from the desert, Jen resumes her slot as the governors daughter; when Lo follows Jen into the realm of tradition, however, their relationship cannot existLo is a barbarian from the west and Jen is due for marriage.
So Jen must reject her comb as Lo returns it; Lo, frustrated, tries to mend their relationship at Jens wedding, but he struggles against a barrage of guests and traditional guards. Lee uses the guards physical power over Lo to symbolise the control tradition has in oppressing Jen and Los relationship. In the final scene, after Jen spends her last night with Lo, she leaves the comb, makes a wish, and jumps off Wudan Mountain. In leaving behind the feminist meaning in her comb, Lee tells the audience that under a life of tradition, Jen cannot be the lover of a Mongol.
This suggests that Jens wish is not that she should have saved Mu Bai, but that she be reborn a man. To Jen, this would cease the oppression that tradition holds on her relationship with Lo. But tradition empowers Mu Bai. Jens fighting talent is wasted because she is trained by her corrupt stand-in mother, Jade Fox, yet Mu Bais talent is pure because he is guided by a framework of fighting tradition. Lee presents this to the audience in the bamboo fight scene: Mu Bai versus Jen, tradition versus the stray. Lee uses long camera shots to capture Mu Bais superior skill and movement, and then close-ups of Jens face to reveal her struggle.
The techniques are underscored by an intense drumbeat; this gives suspense to the fight scene and conveys Mu Bais power. Mu Bai, trained by tradition that the things we touch have no permanence, throws the Green Destiny into the water. Jen, however, was trained by a rouge warrior who rejects the benefit of tradition, so in instinct, Jen dives in to retrieve the sword. Here, Lee shows that Mu Bais traditional training gives him advantage over Jen since he is independent of material objects and hence, with the exception of Shu Lien, has no weakness.
The advantage suggests that Mu Bai becomes empowered because he chooses to commit to tradition rather than resist it. Through the scope of the movie, tradition influences characters in accord of their behaviour and situation. Jen, a woman with a mans talent and ambition, is rejected by tradition; both Jen and Lo, with their incompatible love, are also rejected; Mu Bai, a respected Wudan warrior, is accepted. And so, as the audience peels away Ang Lees techniques, the rejected are revealed as the oppressed, the accepted as the empowered.