2014年10月11日 星期六

Analysis of the Music Used in "Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon" -- Reworking on the Summary


The following writing is not a complete article with appropriate argument. It is originally written by a student who attempts to summarize what she has learnt from the film music analysis lessons.

Although the draft contains many grammatical errors and some ideas cannot be clearly explained, the writing direction and ideas are quite good in nature.  It is worth to rework on this incomplete writing, though there is absent of the argument.

In fact, analyzing musical sound and transforming it into words is not that easy as one think. The formal analysis, which involves using many jargon-like symbols and signs, is not sufficient enough for such writing to general readers. The following reworking essay can, perhaps, provide a valuable reference for readers who not only want to write musical analysis, but also want to understand the musical meaning of some particular scenes.



Music used in the film “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon”
Main focus on fighting scenes:

The scene of “Catching thief” speaks of the first fight occurred between Shu Lien and Jen since Jen has stolen Wudon master Li’s precious sword. In order to intensifying the fighting violence, a pair of Chinese drums is employed to create a series of fast moving percussive sounds. As the level of excitement is raised, the tempo and volume of the drum ostinato increase simultaneously until reaching the climax. At this moment, audience’s emotion is also pushed up to the zenith. Such frenzy is achieved by means of the percussive drum, which is able to create a contrapuntal two-part texture to multiply the hit points of two fighters' actions. In addition, the familiar percussive sonority of Chinese drum, to many audiences, is easily associated with the activities held by traditional Chinese martial art school, such as lion dancing, or free-fighting competition. Tan Dun’s idiosyncratic use of such timbre purports not only to express his wanting to parallel music with the fighting mood of the scene, but also his ambition to exhibit an oriental characteristic of traditional Chinese Kung Fu to the locals as well as the foreigners.

In the scene of “Dark Cloud”, Jen’s comb is robbed by Lo and she is eager to get it back. So she chases Lo and fights with him without noticing that this fight has already ignited her candle of love, which is suppressed in her inner heart for many years. Here, the music is designed in two layers of sound of distinct styles. The first sound layer makes use of the traditional native instrument, yun, to produce a lively, pleasant, and exotic folk dancing tune. The second one is a layer of rhythmic sound played by hand drums and other percussive ensemble as the accompaniment moving in steadily pulsation. To audience, the use of two sound layers is rich in expressive meanings. On the one hand, a rapid detached sound is created by the drums to enhance the power and violence of the fighting, creating many hit points to intensify the fast moving images. On the other hand, a sense of romantic feeling emanates from the dancing tune, which is composed by using the Xian Jiang folk scale to highlight a special feature, the augmented 2nd intervallic flow, in order to soften the vigorous excitement of the fight. In addition, the native plucking instrument, yun, is also capable of producing a quite unfamiliar timbral color, seemingly to inform audience that this love affair between Jen (high social status as aristocracy of mainland) and Lo (low social status as bandit of ethnic minority) is an unequal exotic love. Indeed the minority dance tune consists of the both metrical regularity and spontaneous flexibility, aiming to support certain lively and vividly gestures in the folk dance. Since dancing always reminds audience of a cheerful and happy occasion in many traditional festival activities, such as social gathering for youth to search for lovers or celebration of harvest, of the ethnic minority, the tune used here can fantastically romanticize the scene, transforming covertly the hostile tension to a lovely tender occasion, in which the two lovers can pour out their mutual admirations to each other without using a single word.

In the scene of “Seeking a lesson”, the composer has adopted a traditional folk musical style of Northwest China – music of slow-blowing wind with fast-striking percussions for instrumental ensemble. Jen exhibits her artful sword fighting skill to give a lesson to a large group of provocative swordmen in the restaurant. Here, the meaning of using the traditional folk pattern to accompany the scene is similar to that of the scene discussed above. Two opposite layers of sound produced by the ethnic folk ensemble, again, are able to express a musical pun to the audiences. On the one hand, the striking percussive layer highlights the fighting actions, enlivening audience’s tensions to the moment of frenzy. On the other hand, the comparatively slow-moving Chinese piccolo solo tune displays a glamorous image replete with free, relax, yet artful, gestures. At this very instant, the warrior Jen has seemingly been transformed to both of a graceful dancer and a sagacious poet: bouncing to and fro and flaunting her elegant figure at the one time, reciting lines of a beautiful poem and waving her sword dexterously like a butterfly fluttering and dancing amid the ferocious swordmen at the other. It is definitely an appealing traditional Chinese art of sword dance performance. Here, for this fighting scene, director Li On tends to elucidate a message to audience that Jen’s mastery of sword fighting art is likened to the entertaining subjects in an ancient literati gathering, which always contains poem reciting and sword dancing to enliven the party. To those literati, these intellectual “games” are so easy, so artistic.

The final discussion centers on the scene about Li fighting against Jen in the bamboo bush. Interestingly, the music is designed in sectional form of a ternary like A,  B, and A Sections. While the  ethnic wind instrument bawu playing the theme song melody of “Love Before Time”, which is quite independent of the moving images and moods, the A-melodic music accompaniment in B section  implies certain the Buddha philosophical meaning to the scene. Music of these two sections narrate a voice replete with  meanings. In A section, besides the thematic melody of "Love Before Time" is played by bawu, the supporting wind accompaniment plays some glissandi occasionally in slow tempo, going hand in hand with the moving strings of the repeated notes pattern, the ostinato. The accompaniment seems going non-directionally. Without a clear and specific goal, the music now creates an effect just matching with the two fighters rapidly swinging to and fro on the top of the bamboo trees without putting a foot on the firm ground. This A-melodic setting accompaniment  forms the B section continually after the main theme song finishes it first murmuring of the fate of Li and Jen's encountering. In fact, fighting in the bamboo bush pervades both of the religious and symbolic meanings. Since bamboo tree, according to the “Zen” philosophy, always symbolizes, an “enlightenment”, or “awakening” from the “secular mediocrity” to the “transcendental Buddha”, Li chooses to fight with Jen inside the bamboo bush aims to give her a moral lesson, or in the other word, to “awaken” her from going astray back to the right way through the Way of Sword. Music used here contributes to soften the violence of the fighting, bringing much sublime Buddha philosophical message to audience. In addition, the thematic bawu melody of “Love Before Time” murmurs in A section is used not for supporting the fighting. Instead, it aims to create a musical voice seemingly to narrate a different story to the audience. If the non-directional string glissandi in the B section is voicing the idea of “Zen – Awakening” to audience, the familiar tune of the theme song “Love Before Time” will undeniably speak in the second voice to notice the audience that this “awakening” lesson is doomed to be a failure, since it is not in the right time and the right place. Master Li’s arduous attempts cannot affect the wild, arrogant girl. His showing of love toward Jen as his Wudon disciple is futile.


David Leung (theorydavid)
2014-10-10 (published)