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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
2000 - PG-13 - 120 Mins.
Director: Ang Lee
Producer: Ang Lee, Bill Kong, Li Kong Hsu
Written By: Hui Ling Wang, Kuo Jung Tsai, James Schamus, Wang Hui-Ling, Kuo-Rong Tsai
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Chow Yun-Fat, Sihung Lung
Review by: David Trier
   
This may be one of the more difficult reviews I will write on this site. Foreign films and genre films get special consideration in critique because to judge them out of context would be unfair. A Chinese theme may have no effect on me, but that's not to say it is ineffectual. The plot structure of a martial arts flick may be as weak as Mr. Burns, but that's not to say it is structured the wrong way. This is a foreign genre film, and being one that ranges from god-awful to absolutely brilliant from scene to scene, I hate giving it a flat, straightforward grade.

Having grown tired of pursuing his master's killer, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) has decided to give up his sword, Green Destiny (not affiliated with Ralph Nader), and pursue a life of quite hmmmmmmmness... Just like me, although I won't rest until my master's killer is dead dead dead. So anyway, he gives the sword to his friend/I've-always-loved-you, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) for her to deliver it to his master's best friend. But it is soon stolen by that man's niece, Jen (Zhang Ziyi), a firey young woman trapped by an imminent arranged marriage. As it turns out, Jen is in love with a warrior (Chang Chen) who she may never see again. And to make matters worse, she has been trained in the Wudan-style by, you guessed it, the person who murdered Li's master. Yu pursues Jen and Li pursues them both for different reasons (one to teach and one to protect/honor/kissy-kissy). Much ass is kicked.

This movie is like a good porno. The plot is convoluted and basically incomprehensible until they get down to "doin' it" and you can't take your eyes from the screen. There's a few guy-girl scenes, one terrific girl-girl scene, a bit of an orgy and, of course, a tremendous gangbang (although here it is definitely the girl in the position of power). Without a doubt, this film has the coolest swordplay sequences I have ever seen. How they avoid slicing each others heads off at every take is beyond me. It was no surprise that Yeoh and Fat are masters of their skills, but the real star of this movie is Zhang Ziyi. Her face is as expressive as her physical attack and her overall performance is a marvel. The scenery and cinematography are impressive. The choreography of the fight scenes is brilliant. Granted, I have not seen very many martial arts movies, but it seems to me that the fight scenes themselves are so visually engaging, they transcend an otherwise bland and predictable story. Let's face it, even the attempt to portray a fight with both characters balancing on swaying treetops makes Superman look like he's on a swingset.

Half way through the film, it cuts to a flashback where we learn of Jen's lover. But a flashback should not be the same thing as a whole other movie and that's what this is, taking up what seemed to be about an hour. By the time we returned to the present, I had already forgotten what was at stake... the... sword? In general, the dramatic acting is about as bland as the dialogue, which of course I have no right to criticize since you can't trust subtitles. Plus, I have to concede that the style of performance in a martial arts film is not the same as in a British drama or an Italian opera for that matter. On the other hand, boring is boring. In researching this film, I came across an interesting discovery. This movie is not appreciated in China. The excessive use of wires to make the characters unnecessarily fly about the screen diminishes the amount of time one is actually displaying martial arts skill. And something I never would have discovered, Fat and Yeoh, both accustomed to performing in Cantonese, are apparently not very good at the Mandarin accent!

Director Ang Lee attempts to mix his experience directing dry Western drama with his experience directing... dry Eastern drama, but it is miraculously his approach to action that makes the film worth seeing. Although the story seems reserved only for fans of kung-fu cinema, it does make you contemplate the differences in Eastern and Western womanhood, both its ups and downs. But the only real reason to see this movie is for the fighting, which even if it lacks integrity from a traditional Chinese cinematic sense, is exhilarating. But just one question: WHY CAN THEY FLY...??
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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