We have seen a lot of this before. Women with or under steel. What looks like studio martial arts but is actually ballet of a sort – but also maybe Apache dancing?. Wu Qinghua in Red Sisters of course. But even before that, Shu Qiao’s “Dagger Society” Dance Drama, 1960, which dared to color-code a separate column of sword-wielding ballerinas (trained ones), not just alongside of men but outshining them. Is it merely because of the thrill of gender rengagement? (The same thing in prior guise as we encounter in the the women-in-boots cabaret of the 30s? (see above). Is this uplifting or is it terrifying?
The layers need to be disentangled. Some of it is precursive of modern dance a la Chinoise, and that is the part that is of greatest interest. But also the most “conflicted”: women as post-ballerinas with all the skill and grace that comes from BDA (Beijing Dance Academy) training, the best there is. Yet the roles they fall into: is it JUST for box office that they turn cartwheels, deck out in ninja garb, leap over roofs, take on their superiors )(masters) in terrifying blade fighting – but then are either tortured, molested, pinioned as animals, or cornered into suicide – all because they are not allowed to love?
Zhang Ziyi’s role-sequence, its structures (actually twice-played-role) as Jin in Crouching Tiger (by far the better “dance-op: the dancer who dances into our through suicide into the mountain mists;) and then again as ?? in House of Flying Daggers (as Concubine/Danceuse/Magician- where she merely suffers humiliation), are telling us (under their fantastic overlay) that menning themselves through steel (ing themselves) is no longer a path into the memory of the all: instead it is a road into inner loneliness, as part played and part player no longer can cohabit, and both lose (almost don’t try) in the real contest: love.