Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) / Drama-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for martial arts violence and some sexuality
Running Time: 120 min.
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Chang. Pei-pei Cheng
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai (based on the book by Du Lu Wang)
Review published December 12, 2000
Before watching this movie, I heard such high praise as "Best Film of the Year", "Best Kung Fu movie of All-Time", and even "One of the Best Movies of Any Kind Ever". I can say with confidence that this last blurb is tosh, but I can't also say with the same degree of certainty that the first two may not be.
Chow Yun-Fat (The Replacement Killers, The Killer) plays Li Mu Bai, the most skilled warrior in the land who wields a 400-year old famed sword known as the Green Destiny. Li feels it is time for him to relinquish the sword and finish off his days in retirement, and he hopes it might be with the woman he has flirted with romance with for many years, Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies). A wrench is thrown in the works when the sword is not only stolen, but Li's greatest enemy, Jade Fox (Cheng, Wing Chun), may be involved, along with a mysterious assassin (Zhang, Rush Hour 2) whose raw kung fu talents intrigue Li to the point he wishes to instruct the young assassin in the ways of his ancient fighting skills.
Take this review for what it's worth, as I have been a hardcore fan of Hong Kong cinema for some time and have seen many in this genre. Perhaps the reason Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon did not absolutely blow me away as it did other critics is because they have never seen another movie quite like it. Wire-fu (kung fu films in which the actors are placed on cable mostly invisible to us to simulate flying fighting) may be new to most American movie-goers, but has been a staple of Hong Kong cinema for many years.
However, as familiar as I might be with the genre, CTHD is clearly a vastly superior Hong Kong film, and may be the best I've seen to date. The action sequences aren't just great, they are phenomenal. The cinematography isn't just beautiful, it's breathtaking. Combine these with a touching romance, a sweeping epic story, and highly detailed sets and costumes, and you have a film worthy of any accolades it receives.
I was a bit skeptical of Chow Yun-Fat's appearance in the film, as he has made a career on hard-boiled gangster/cop action flicks, and has not done much in the way of martial arts cinema, but if he's inexperienced in this area, one would never know it based on the results on screen. Ang Lee (Sense & Sensibility, Hulk) does a phenomenal job with not only making the visuals sumptuous, but also showing the fighting as a beautiful art form, like watching a high-flying ballet instead of a brawl. Michelle Yeoh has outgrown her label as just a female Jackie Chan, and may soon start to be labeled as Hong Kong's equivalent of Meryl Streep if she can choose roles with equal substance. And newcomer Ziyi Zhang, who has the most screen time of any actor involved, makes a splash of a debut as the spitfire daughter in an affluent family who desires to be with the bandit she fell in love with rather than the usual forced marriage that was the custom of the day.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon makes a terrific introduction for anyone unfamiliar with Hong Kong cinema, and hopefully will inspire many others to seek out the works of Yeoh and Yun-Fat, as well as many other of Hong Kong's finest. The movies are full of life, fun, and beauty that Hollywood has long since forgotten in the world of action movies, and is the reason CTHD stands alone among this year's releases in terms of content and quality. An epic kung-fu romance -- they just don't make 'em like this -- ever.
©2000 Vince Leo