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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Move over Jackie Chan. Step aside Batman and Robin. Shift gears, Superman. Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" splashes across the big screen like no other martial arts movie you've ever seen, utilizing that filmmaker's feminist vision to portray three women as fighters so formidable that Rambo would have considerable difficulty indeed should he ever incur their enmity. "Crouching Tiger," selected as the closing pic by the New York Film Festival, has the kind of comic-book melodramatic action that could draw the youngsters into its PG-13 life if only they could overcome their suspicion of foreign-language fare. The subtitles are clear, however, and the story serves as a pretext for the most dramatic action sequences filmed this year-- surpassing the progression of mayhem in "The Matrix."

The story, which is adapted from Wang Du Lu's novel by James Schamus, Wang Hui Ling and Tsai Kuo Jung, takes us not so far back (the early 1800's) but we might be looking at the world of the medieval Chinese dynasties where warlords ruled over their fiefs and skirmishes were so common that if you said "nee how ma" the wrong way you were likely to lose your head. Two couples are in love. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) have powerful feelings for each other (why not? They're both masters of the martial arts who could give the neighbors something to talk about if they ever got into a heated argument. Li is retiring to devote his life to contemplation. (Don't worry: he comes out of withdrawal soon enough.) To signify his sincerity he hands over his sword, Green Destiny, to the physically adept, acrobatic Yu, willing to stop seeking vengeance against Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) who had killed his master. In Peking, Yu runs into the youthful Jen (Zhang Ziyi), about to suffer a forced marriage while envying the freedom enjoyed Yu. When the priceless sword is stolen, the acrobatics commence.

Tarzan has nothing on the martial artists in Ang Lee's picture, and what's more the most daring and successful fighters are of the so-called weaker sex, their prowess even more remarkable when you consider that Yu and Jade Fox are meant to be well over the age of 35. In the most elaborate and even hilarious aerial ballet, young Jen takes on a band of uncouth men who might have come out of the Teutonic beasts who fought the Romans in "The Gladiator." She calmly drinks tea on the upper level of a ramshackle restaurant and, when approached by one "Iron Hand," she tosses him over the rail with one arm while still concentrating on her cup. In short order the entire establishment is gutted. Kick, pow, sock, bam.

Ang Lee takes us out of the big city of Peking for long stretches of Chinese desert in which (as Jen's flashback reveals) a 19th century Lawrence of Arabia, the bold equestrian bandit Lo (Chang Chen), alternately fights with Jen and makes love to her. A chase on horseback across the sands of Western China easily put the old American cowboy sequences into the dust.

The flights through the air are nothing short of spectacular, making us wonder whether the characters in this tale are more the stuff of legend than breathing, fighting and loving human beings. While Chow Yun-fat allows himself a relatively small role in the movie that features his name in the star's box, Zhang Ziyi's portrayal of the petite but superhuman fierce Jen is the show-stealer. Yo Yo Ma's cello punctuates the action along with a steady percussion in a movie which ups the ante and might just Jackie Chan green with envy.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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