The fates of a pair of Chinese master martial artists and the women who love them play out in this two-part historical novel.
Inspired by the 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (based on the work of Chinese author Wang Dulu), this book offers two interconnected stories about star-crossed lovers in a 19th-century world of Chinese martial arts, intrigue, and cultural constraints. In “Chiang Shiao-ho and a Willow Tree,” young Chiang rises from humble beginnings to fame as a master martial artist. He is determined to kill his father’s murderers and his childhood foes, including the dangerous patriarch of a feared martial arts school. Chiang’s desire for revenge is complicated by his love for the patriarch’s granddaughter, who has sworn to protect her grandfather with her life. Yu’s (Chinese Mosaic, 2018, etc.) second tale, “Lee Mo-bai and a Living Widow,” takes place many years later. The orphaned son of a wealthy man (Chiang’s sworn brother), Lee is an expert in the literary and martial arts. He diverges from his reluctant path to civil service when he becomes the protector of Yu Ceo-lian, a young woman traveling to meet her betrothed for the first time. The bridegroom-to-be disappears, leaving her, as tradition dictates, to be a “living widow” for life. Although loving Lee, she takes her fate into her own hands, becoming adept at martial arts and seeking to avenge the death of her father. Lee, meanwhile, earns influential friends and powerful enemies. Despite inadvertent repetition, abrupt scene shifts, and distracting grammatical and English usage hitches (“I did not teacher you all my skills”; “He knew he will win”), these stories are rich in character and shaped by both thoughtful moral dilemmas and hyper-dynamic action. While the dual epilogues are anticlimactic, the two moving tales are skillfully propelled by acts of treachery, honor, and duty; the suspenseful appearance of legendary martial arts masters; and the author’s pointed examination of the tragic consequences of endless cycles of revenge and the cultural subordination of women.
Engaging storytelling in a vivid setting.