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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh
Director: Ang Lee
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: December 2000
Genres: Action, Foreign

Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

The martial arts film has always generally been written off as being the cinematic equivalent of junk food. The term often used for the genre, "chopsocky," perfectly expresses this perception; the word sounds fun, but it also sounds rather silly and inconsequential. There's no denying the amusement to be had with, say, an average Jackie Chan film, but is there any real nourishment that comes with the enjoyment? Not especially.

With credits ranging from the Taiwanese family dramas _The_Wedding_Banquet_ and _Eat_Drink_Man_Woman_ to the slice of '70s Americana _The_Ice_Storm_ and the Jane Austen adaptation _Sense_and_Sensibility_, director Ang Lee would appear an unlikely person to helm what would be typically classified as a kung fu flick; in fact, given his award-winning oeuvre, such a film seems beneath him. As it turns out, however, Lee is not only a lifelong fan of the genre, his greatest filmmaking goal was to make a lavish martial arts epic. Watching _Crouching_Tiger,_Hidden_Dragon_, the fruition of that dream, it's clear that all of Lee's previous (and largely terrific) work has been a mere warm-up to this staggering accomplishment. _Crouching_Tiger_ is even more than an exhilarating reinvigoration of the martial arts movie--it's a thrilling testament to the transporting power of film.

Note the term "reinvigoration" as opposed to "reinvention," for in keeping with being a reverential fan, Lee doesn't tamper with time-worn convention in adapting Wang Du Lu's 18th Century-set novel (the fourth in a series of five). Basic plot strands bear the air of the familiar. After many years of legend-building combat, famous and feared warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is ready to give up his violent ways--that is, after completing one last mission: avenging the murder of his master at the hands of the notorious criminal known as Jade Fox. But Li is ready to make one major gesture toward a different life, and that is giving up his fabled sword, the Green Destiny to a friend. Soon after it is placed in the trophy case of respected leader Sir Te (Lung Sihung), the Green Destiny is stolen, and Li and his longtime friend and former combat partner Yu Shu Lien's (Michelle Yeoh) quest to recover it is the mere jumping-off point for a sweeping tale of action, intrigue, and romance.

One of _Crouching_Tiger_'s most noteworthy elements is the first-ever screen pairing of two of Hong Kong cinema's biggest stars, Yeoh and Chow. Surprisingly, these iconic figures actually take secondary positions to beautiful young newcomer Zhang Ziyi. As Jen, the seemingly innocent and innocuous daughter of prominent political figure Governor Yu (Li Fa Zeng), Zhang is a real find, holding her own in all aspects and carrying the picture with ease once the focus settles squarely on her. The conflicting forces battling for influence over Jen's soul is _Crouching_Tiger_'s main concern, and without an actress as gifted and captivating as Zhang in the pivotal role, it's difficult to imagine the story being quite as engrossing involving as it is.

That said, there's no discounting the invaluable contribution Yeoh and Chow make to the film. They prove to be a most dynamic duo in every way, even displaying sides of their ability that they've never had an opportunity to reveal before. The ever-charismatic and commanding Chow, making his bow in this type of action film, proves to be as natural with a sword as he is with a gun (his usual cinematic weapon of choice); but granted, his stunts aren't as heavy duty as those of Yeoh, who is given ample opportunity to show off and even elevate her well-established athleticism and grace in the spectacular fights staged by the renowned martial arts choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping. But the two are even more impressive in the dramatic scenes. They have a nicely understated chemistry that lends heartrending pathos to their characters' relationship. Li and Shu Lien have long been in love, but they've denied their passion in honor of the memory of Shu Lien's late fiancé, a brother by oath to Li. Their tortured longing is subtly, wrenchingly conveyed in Yeoh and Chow's vividly expressive eyes.

Scripters Wang Hui-ling, Tsai Kuo-jung, and James Schamus (Lee's regular writing collaborator) ultimately address a number of weighty themes in _Crouching_Tiger_, but they and Lee don't make their points without having fun along the way. A lot of fun. The story is essentially serious, but the film has a healthy, self-aware sense of humor about itself, best exemplified by the parallel romance between Jen and Lo (Chang Chen), a desert-dwelling bandit. The circumstances behind their meeting are wholly comical; she chases after him for an insane distance after he steals... her comb. Ridiculous, yes; but the light touch is beguiling and completely convincing, befitting the playfulness of a young, impetuous love.

Of course, most of the fun comes from the electrifying and boundlessly imaginative action sequences, which further maintain the film's fidelity to genre tradition by paying no heed to the laws of gravity. The film's first showpiece, an extended chase/fight across many Peking rooftops, is a jaw-dropper guaranteed to get every audience around the world to burst into awestruck applause. Even more unbelievable than this sequence is the fact that this is only the starting point. To say more is to rob a bit of the wonder of the thrills Lee and Yuen conjure up; suffice it to say, they regularly defy and surpass expectations. In terms of bread-and-butter fighting, Yuen outdoes himself, and Lee shoots the action in such a way that every balletic, meticulously choreographed move is made clear and thus lent maximum impact.

That impact stays with you long after _Crouching_Tiger,_Hidden_Dragon_ is over, but what leaves an impression even more enduring than the spectacular action, breathtaking images (captured by cinematographer Peter Pau), and lovely melodies (composed by Tan Dun) are the people--their personalities, their emotions, their struggles, the hard lessons that they learn. Exciting, funny, uplifting, heartbreaking--the list of descriptions can go on and on, yet all that is the magnificent _Crouching_Tiger,_Hidden_Dragon_ is easily encapsulated in one word: masterpiece.

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