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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 UK Critic
3½ stars out of 4

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a movie made with such grace, beauty and passion that the effect is somewhat disorientating. The filmmaker, Ang Lee, has made serious comedies ("Wedding Banquet", "Sense and Sensibility"), thoughtful dramas ("The Ice Storm") and even a Civil War epic ("Ride With the Devil"). Now he gives us a martial arts picture.

There are familiar elements throughout. The male hero, played by Oriental action star Chow Yun-Fat, is a legendary warrior on a passionate quest, attempting to recover his stolen sword and avenge the death of his master. He and the female hero (Michaelle Yeoh) are both experts at fighting, and there is much respectful talk about their hallowed craft. There are old scores brought up, new double-crossings perpetrated, instances of witchcraft and malevolence, displays of nobility and bravery -- and there is fighting.

We're used to seeing this kind of thing depicted with strained faces, accompanied by ridiculously melodramatic drum sounds, while both heroes and villains let out shrieks, and speak through bad dubbing tracks. That's not the sort of thing we'd expect from Lee, nor do we get it. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is directed with a tender, dramatic touch; when the characters talk about their beliefs, the words come out with the same sincerity and intensity as they do in the films of Akira Kurosawa. This is chop-socky material elevated to art.

Because the movie feels so much like a drama, I felt at arms length for a great percentage of its running time -- what I was getting at in my opening comment is that the distinguished nature of the style leads us to expect that the story is going to coil and spring in some grand, unexpected way. It is not until late on in the piece, when the structure has become clear, that we realise Lee's aim is simply to approach familiar material in an unfamiliar way, and we can relax and let the story reach us. A second viewing might help me appreciate the picture more, as might have a little less pre-release hype.

What strikes us instantly and unmistakably are the scenes of action, beautifully choreographed by the same guy who trained the actors in "The Matrix", and none of them created through CGI. There is, for example, a breathtaking early moment in which the actors chase each other along rooftops, gliding over ceilings and skipping down walls in almost musical rhythm. And a hypnotic battle in which two opponents drift past each other while gripping onto tree branches as they sway in the breeze. Spectacular.

Copyright 2001 UK Critic

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