"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.
Copyright © 2001 UK Critic