A magnificently crafted hybrid of Chinese historical epic, F/X enhanced martial arts spectacular, mystical romantic tragedy and live-action anime, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a film that defies genre while embracing traditionalism. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon takes place in 19th century China. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) is prepared to retire from the lifestyle to settle down. He gives his mystical sword, Green Destiny, to his partner in arms Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to entrust to a nobleman. Soon after, Green Destiny is stolen by a young thief. It turns out the thief is mentored by none other than Jade Fox, a legendary thief who murdered Li Mu Bai’s master and stole his training manual.
The fight scenes in this movie are really something to see. As if exempt from gravity, the combatants propel themselves across rooftops with nothing more than the slight touch of their toes. They run up walls, spin in the air and exchange an astonishing array of kicks and blows so rapid as to almost become a blur. It’s Peter Pan meets Jet Li, with an underlying sense of the metaphysical. Li Mu Bai, the embodiment of the Wuxia ideal, naturally wants revenge upon Jade Fox for her crimes against his master and his school; more than this, though, he wishes to take Jen as disciple to be Wudan’s first female student – largely because without Wudan discipline she will surely become a villain far worse than her mistress.
And yet while a single shot can be so marvellous as to make your jaw go down and your eyebrows go up, often director Ang Lee will linger on them too long. Suddenly the beautiful can seem to be the very silly indeed. If you can allow yourself to get sucked into the fantasy world then this is a film you have to see it – it’s a reaffirmation of spectacle and the beauty of cinematography. The action begins, ironically, with no action at all, just the emotions that play on the faces of two lovers who have never acted on their feelings.
Crouching Tiger is not just about fighting and revenge, but also of redemption and love. The actors are well cast, and director Ang Lee coaxes great performances from most of them. As Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien, Chow and Yeoh smolder with their characters’ repressed passions. The actors incorporate the spirit of swordplay in their performances and alternate between slow, taut exchanges and lightning flashes of intense emotion. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a native language masterpiece for the remarkably versatile director Ang Lee.
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