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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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


Crouching Tiger follows the story of Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh) and famous warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow) in 19th century China. Both are warriors of the Jiang Hu underworld and due to life circumstances, feel that they cannot follow through on the love they feel for each other. Li Mu Bai, after a revelation during meditation, decides to lay down his sword by giving it to local official Sir Te. But, the night it is given away - it is stolen. A course of events that changes their lives forever follows as they meet up with Jen Yu (Zhang), an aristocratic young woman promised to marry a man, but wishing for a more free life and secretly studying under a certain Jade Fox.


Once in a while, a movie comes along that just totally envelops you. A movie that reminds you why you love movies. A movie that places itself among the best ever. Crouching Tiger is that movie. Ang Lee has crafted a brilliant tribute to martial arts films and wuxia novels, while continuing in his beautiful character based style of filmmaking. Crouching Tiger, with its deeply developed characters, lush cinematography, and brilliant martial arts set pieces, may just be one of the greatest films ever made.

One thing that seems to be unsettling to many HK purists who go into this film is its mix of western and eastern styles of filmmaking. Going into this, one must understand that it is not a HK martial arts film. This is a Hollywood/Taiwanese co-production. Like most Ang Lee films, it is deeply character based and dialogue heavy. But, it is exactly these traits that, when done well, make a film as memorable as this. It is through the dialogue, the characters' actions and reactions, and how the characters change throughout the story that we become attached to them. It is the attachment to these characters that makes us care about them and about what happens to them in this film. It may not be surprising to note that these are similar sentiments to what I have expressed in my reviews of another Ang Lee film, "Eat Drink Man Woman", which goes to show how a character driven story can truly inspire the viewer.

Of course, a storyline must be well conceived and paced to make such a character based story work. Crouching Tiger does a beautiful job of balancing character-developing dialogue with plot flow. Within just the first 20 mintues of the film, the viewer is given the necessary background to the characters and motives of Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien, preparing them for the first major event that sets the story going. It is with grace that the events in the film evoke reactions in the characters and, eventually, changes in the characters themselves. By the end of the film, the viewer cannot help but care for the fate of each and every character while understanding exactly why and how the characters have arrived at that point.

The look of the film itself is quite amazing, too. With the Asian cinematic flair for capturing the look and feel of a given time and setting and a Hollywood budget - Crouching Tiger captures the enviroment with jaw-dropping results. Everything, from the costumes to the buildings to the landscapes is beautifully captured with masterful cinematography. It is difficult to describe the feeling you get when you see the lush, green trees swinging back and forth with the soft, emotional music playing in the background. It really does hit the heart of the viewer. It is no wonder that this film, courtesy of cinematographer Peter Pau, won an Oscar for its cinematography. An interesting thing to note, though, is how this film differs from Ang Lee's other films in its fantasy style. In his tribute to wuxia and martial arts films, Ang Lee allows for high flying characters with almost mystical powers. This is a major change from a director who has done some films so heavily centered in reality, and it is truly amazing how well he adapts to fantasy.

The martial arts set pieces, like the rest of the film, are graceful and exquisitely captured. Our old friend Yuen Woo Ping gets honors as the fight choreographer here and, as always, his fights are masterful. The truly interesting thing about his choreography is how it matches the style of the film. While his own films, such as Iron Monkey and Wing Chun, had one particular style of choreography to them - he managed to adopt his style to perfectly match films such as the more grounded Fist of Legend, the bullet-cam powered Matrix, and even continuing in perfect style from Once Upon a Time in China to its sequel. Crouching Tiger, though, may just be the greatest example of how he can adopt his choreography to fit the film. While still intricate and fast paced, the fluidity and elegance of the fights in Crouching Tiger stand as a testament to the style of the film. At times, the fights are almost as much beautiful dances as they are battles. That is not to take anything away from the intricacy and creativity of the fights, which is still up with the best. Just about everyone will agree that the battle between Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu, where Shu Lien goes through all the different weapons, is one of the most memorable in film history.

Crouching Tiger has been hailed by some as one of the greatest films of all time. I can find no reason not to completely agree with that statement. Another beautiful character based story from Ang Lee, with the perfect mix of Asian and Western film styles makes for an unforgettable movie experience. The memorable characters, beautiful cinematography, and amazing fight scenes will having you watching again and again.


-Ang Lee


-Original Mandarin language