Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [Review]

December 22nd, 2000
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Neil Lee, martial arts, movie review, kung fu
Chow Yun Fat bring meditative Kung-Fu to the masses in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Directed by:
Ang Lee



Starring:

Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen



Written by:

James Schamus, Wang Hui Ling, Tsai Kuo Jung



Running time:

119 minutes



Classification:

PG-13



Opens:

December 8th (Toronto & Vancouver)

December 22nd (Wider release in select cities)

Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon does the seemingly impossible - it manages to take one of the most populist film genres (the martial arts movie) and remakes it into something gorgeously meditative and narcotic. Lee describes his film as, “a kind of dream of China, a China that probably never existed,” and in viewing his 'dream', it's apparent just how deep Lee's feelings are for his homeland. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon oozes sublimity.


Described perfectly by the director as, “Sense and Sensibility with martial arts”, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's story follows a similar path as a historical costume drama, but with a kung-fu twist. Li Mu Bai (brilliantly played by Chow Yun-Fat) is a great warrior ready to retire from a life of high kicks and clenched fists. He begins his move into retirement by giving his famous sword, named 'Green Destiny', away to his longtime friend Yu Hus Lien, played by Michelle Yeoh. North American audiences best know Yeoh from her high action roles in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, and fellow action star Jackie Chan's SuperCop.



The sword becomes the catalyst for a convoluted turn of events after it is stolen from its resting place at a Governor's house, which in turn provokes an epic struggle between Li Mu Bai, Yu Hus Lien and a young, hot tempered girl named Jen Yu, played by the amazing Zhang Ziyi. Keep your eye on Zhang - she's poised for a huge breakthrough with her outstanding performance here.



The martial arts work in this film is jaw dropping in its speed and complexity, made even more amazing by the fact that the actors themselves perform all of the fighting. It's something that's absent from most American action films, and is even more astounding when you consider that most of the actors had very little martial arts experience coming into the picture. It comes as no surprise that Yeun Wo-Ping, whose springy, hyper-kinetic work entranced viewers previously in The Matrix, choreographed the fight scenes.



Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Neil Lee, martial arts, movie review, kung fu
Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) demonstrates her flexibility in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Lo and Jen Yu embraceDrawn from a venerable Chinese martial arts genre known as Wuxia Pian, or films of martial chivalry, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fight scenes feature an element which may bewilder North American audiences: flying. In the midst of a flurry of kicks, characters simply shrug off gravity as a minor annoyance and take to the sky.


This lighter-than-air quality makes for one of the most beguiling sequences, where characters fight it out on tree tops sixty feet above the ground. It may also leave some people more used to Jackie Chan / Bruce Lee style martial arts films feeling a bit uncomfortable with the mysticalness of it all. In fact, at a recent viewing of the film, there were a few giggles from the audience the first time a character flew into the air.



All of the performances in this film are impeccable. Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh handle both the chop-socky aspects and the dramatic elements of the script wonderfully, delivering understated and moving performances. It's more incredible once you find out that both Chow and Yeoh had to deliver their lines phonetically, as neither speaks the dialect of Chinese used in the film.



All told, the gorgeous cinematography, excellent character development and beautifully restrained romantic elements all make for a highly entertaining film experience. The movie has already been pegged for Best Picture Oscar status, and has already received three Golden Globe nominations, including Best Foreign language film and best original score.



In fact, the score for the film, composed by Tan Dun and featuring cello solos by the fantastic Yo-Yo Ma is a sleeper hit, selling out at music stores across the country. The score adds another layer of majesty to an already wonderful film brimming with romance, intrigue and karate chops - what more could you ask for from a night at the movies?

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