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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) – Movie Review

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie poster

Written by: James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai, Hui-Ling Wang, based on the book by Du Lu Wang
Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Pei-pei Cheng

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat) is a warrior who has had enough. Despite the fact that his master’s murderer, Jade Fox, is still loose out there somewhere, he’s tired of the warrior’s path. Because of how set he is on retiring, he is entrusting his sword, the Green Destiny, to his old compatriot, Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh). She takes the sword to their mutual friend, Sir Te (Sihung Lung), as a gift on Li Mu Bai’s behalf. But when the Destiny is stolen by a mysterious thief with magical fighting techniques, Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien are going to be drawn into a web of mystery and violence that involves not only a young princess (Ziyi) and an outlaw (Chen), but Jade Fox as well.

[ad#longpost]My first thought upon leaving the theatre was that if the guys doing Matrix 2 don’t get their act together, they’ll be laughed off the screen. Why? Because this film has the best, most outrageous martial arts action I’ve ever seen. Same fight choreographer, the amazing Yuen Woo-ping, but they took the handcuffs off him for this one. Now granted, there are four major fight scenes in the film, and that’s what you’ll leave talking about–but still great sequences of ass-kicking alone do not a four-and-a-half cup film make.

Enter Ang Lee, who has a decent track record of making interesting, thought provoking dramas. He weaves the action into two parallel love stories, a subplot of revenge, a undercurring theme of honor…until the entire thing is a tapestry you can stare at for hours. I personally can’t wait to see it again so I can do just that.

Now I know my first paragraph focused on the fights, because that’s the what you walk away from the film with: the sudden desire to be able to hop and skip up walls and jump seventy feet in the air to kick someone’s ass. But let’s face it–there are spaces between the fight sequences that have to be filled with something, right? Some films can have impressive fight sequences and then bore you to tears with their so-called plot. I’m not mentioning any titles here, because that would be indiscrete. Romeo Must Die. The thing about Tiger is that it’s a story as well–and a good one, with strong characters that you can actually understand and care for. The majority of the characters feel trapped in the lives that they have chosen (or in some cases, not chosen). Who hasn’t felt like that, especially when it’s five in the morning and you have a backlog of reviews to write? Okay, bad comparison. But the main thing is that the film is complete. It’s not all fighting, not all romance, not all epic vistas–it manages to find a seemingly easy balance between all of these things and never feel heavy in one direction or another.

Chow Yun-Fat’s earnest dual nature, both as warrior and guy just ready to settle down, works very well–however, Yun-Fat takes a back seat to the two main female stars. Michelle Yeoh is excellent here, both in her amazing moves (she was the only one with wire work experience, can you believe it?) and in her scenes with Yun-Fat–both of them trying to figure out exactly how to express how they feel. A fine sense of direction gives the scenes the two of them have together just enough to get the point across in a subtle way. I must say, though, that the show-stealer of the film is the young Zhang Ziyi. Impetuous and angry at her seeming lot in life, she takes it out on those around her. You’ll just have to see the film to understand completely.

Do not let the subtitles frighten you. This is a massive film that has something for everyone, and needs to be experienced on the big screen. So for once, just go out and read the lines and watch the beauty. You’ll be glad you did.

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