Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an absolute feast for moviegoers. It has enough fantasy, drama, comedy, romance, and martial arts action for three movies! Never before have I seen a film blend so many different genres with such satisfying results.
Yun-Fat Chow (or Chow Yun-Fat) stars as Li Mu Bai, a great warrior who owns an Excalibur-like sword called the Green Destiny. He seeks to leave his violent past behind and begin a new, more peaceful life. The sword now only serves to remind him of his past, so he entrusts it to his longtime friend Yu Shu Lien, played by Michelle Yeoh, to present as a gift to Sir Te, played by Sihung Lung, who lives in the forbidden city of Peking. The sword is soon stolen, which sends Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien on a grand journey to retrieve the Green Destiny, avenge fallen allies, heal old wounds, and hopefully restore peace to their lives.
The story does take much inspiration from other sources, but the originality with which it is presented makes this a very unique film. There are shades of Star Wars, as well as the King Arthur legend, and the fighting scenes were created by the same wizards who worked on The Matrix. (More about those fight scenes later.)
Taking place in an unspecified time period, but most likely the late 19th century, the true magic of this film lies in the surprising strengths of its female characters. Action veteran Michelle Yeoh is great as Yu Shu Lien, a woman who runs her family business, which provides protection for goods during cross-country transport. Newcomer Zhang Zi Yi plays Jen Yu, a young woman who is about to be married for the good of her family, but desperately wants more out of life. These two central female characters both hide secret desires and attempt to live their lives to the fullest, while still respecting the ancient traditions concerning their places in society. This is, indeed, a very fine line to walk.
As for the acting, the entire cast was fantastic, but I must single out Zhang Zi Yi as the highlight. Her performance was nothing short of brilliant, and she holds her ground extremely well in scenes opposite her more famous co-stars. Zhang Zi Yi is certain to rise to stardom very soon.
And now, the action! The fight scenes, virtually all of which feature at least one female character, are nearly beyond description. Choreographed by the legendary Yuen Wo Ping, they follow the traditional style of Chinese fairytale theatre, a style of cinema unfamiliar to most American moviegoers. Nothing I can write here can do justice to the grace, flow, and beauty of these scenes. You can read all you want about the technical stuff, concerning actors on wires, somewhere else. All I ask is this: How many fight scenes have you seen in movies that result in spontaneous applause from the entire audience, time after time after time? It happens here, and as far as I'm concerned, that's real magic.
Ang Lee's direction is flawless during the action scenes, as well as during the quieter moments of the film. He creates a wonderful universe for his characters that is both real and fantastic at the same time, and his skill makes it effortless for the audience to maintain a suspension of disbelief throughout the movie.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a true gem. If you like action movies, fantasy movies, fairy tale movies, dramatic movies, tragic movies, funny movies, romantic movies, oh heck, if you like MOVIES, you'll love this one!
Note: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is presented in Mandarin,
with English subtitles.
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