Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Starring: Michelle Khan, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Chow Yun-Fat, Sihung Lung
Director:

Ang Lee

Writing credits: Hui Ling Wang, Kuo Jung Tsai, James Schamus, Wang Hui-Ling, Kuo-Rong Tsai
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Rated: PG-13 for martial arts violence and some sexuality.
  (USA 2000)

Our new century isn't very old yet, but the remaining 98 years will be hard pressed to find a more rapturous movie than Ang Lee's sumptuous new triumph, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Lee's elegant combination of mythic romance, ancient warriors, martial arts, and breathtaking special effects is intoxicatingly brilliant. Like THE MATRIX married to THE LAST EMPEROR, it is an odd experiment of cross-bred styles and genres that could have easily failed. Thankfully, however, the experiment works wonderfully, a bountiful feast for film lovers. The long and short of it -- if your heart doesn't skip at least a beat, your breath doesn't catch in your throat, and your feet don't levitate off the ground during CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, check your pulse...you may be dead.

Epic in scope but meticulously detailed, TIGER/DRAGON starts out slowly. We first meet two warriors, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). Old friends with an long-burning, unspoken passion between them, they belong to a secretive, magical sect that, well, is a bit out of the ordinary. As the film begins, Mu Bai decides to give up his warring ways and hand over his magical sword, the Green Destiny, to an old friend for safekeeping. Yeoh and Chow are stunningly good actors, and their dramatic efforts here are as superb as any in the world.

Things kick into high gear, however, when the Green Destiny is stolen. Mu Bai and Shu Lien chase their nemesis, a rebel named Jade Fox (Pei-Pei Cheng), for the remainder of the film, in scenes that grow in astonishing, seamless perfection. The action sequences (and there are many) blend effortlessly into the drama, progressing naturally out of the plot and narrative. And boy, is the action stunning -- staged by master fight director Woo-ping Yuen (who rose to international prominence in THE MATRIX) using the latest special effects technology, the warriors leap from building to building, providing both intense choreography and jaw-dropping acrobatic feats. Like the best of Asia's martial arts classics, the fight sequences seem almost dreamlike...and make American action films, by comparison, seem pedestrian and tawdry.

The secrets of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON are too many (and too wonderful) to list here, but suffice to say that the film plays against the grain in almost every manner conceivable. It is a serious drama that benefits from its gentle comedic moments. (One sequence, where the teenage daughter of the Governor, played by Ziyi Zhang, deftly defeats dozens of men in a bar, gives a hilarious nod to bar brawls of American westerns.) The language isn't English, but the story is so intuitive and well-told that even foreign film haters will be charmed.

Perhaps its most remarkable element is the number of strong, intelligent women in the film -- three of the four leading characters in the film are women, including heroes and villains. Director Lee, who has called this film a variation on his Oscar-winning earlier work SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, has peopled this mythical landscape with noble, gentle men and intelligent, independent women. The action genre's stereotypes -- brutish gladiators, distressing damsels -- are nowhere to be found. In their place, we have surprising romances, respectful friendships, and powerful magic. Is this a dream movie or what? It's a world that everyone will want to explore and inhabit.

In our jaded, post-postmodern world, it's becoming increasing rare when works of art can touch us deeply. Perhaps that's why watching audiences jump to their feet and applaud a MOVIE is one of TIGER/DRAGON's greatest joys. Scenes like "the bar scene", "the tree scene", "the desert sequence" are bound to become neo-classics, discussed around water coolers for months to come.

But perhaps -- perhaps -- there's something deeper at work here. Buried just beneath the surface of this film is something many 21st century residents are craving -- modern technology married to superior storytelling that celebrates life's possibilities, rather than denigrates them. The power of film to move you, to mold you, and to enthrall you is on display at CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON -- go, enjoy, and exult in it.

 

- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2000 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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