Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Believe the hype. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a film unlike most others. It is an exhilarating blend of martial arts and epic romance, easily delivering on both counts. Director Ang Lee makes has no pretensions about grounding this story about a magical stolen sword in reality. It is his vision of China, a mystical place where noble warriors defy the laws of gravity when fighting. If ever a foreign film had crossover appeal, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is it. The martial arts and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh appeal to male predominated action crowds, while the drama and characterization will appeal towards female viewers who usually shun similar movies. The largest hindrance is language, but hopefully this will not stop anybody from seeing this wondrous film.

Legendary swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow, Anna and the King, The Corruptors) wants to give up his warrior life. He entrusts his friend Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies, Supercop) to deliver his sword, the Green Destiny, to a friend. Jen (Zhang Ziyi, The Road Home), the daughter of a prominent politician, steals the sword, thus beginning a race for possession between Li, Yu, and Jen. There is so much more going on here than in other movies. Adapted from the novel by Wang Du Lu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon crafts intricate backstories for each character. Li wants to avenge the death of his master as the hands of a criminal called the Jade Fox (Cheng Pei Pei, Wing Chun, A Man Called Hero). Li and Yu's relationship is also much deeper than each is willing to admit. Jen's parents arranged a marriage for her, one that she is extremely reluctant to purse. She is in love with Lo (Chang Chen, Mahjong), a desert bandit. The adaptation by James Schamus, Ride With the Devil), Wang Hui Ling (Eat Drink Man Woman), and Tsai Kuo Jung take the time to develop each character, letting each one speak and explain his/her actions and reasons for them.

Lee (Ride With the Devil, The Ice Storm) starts slowly. When the actors first take 'flight,' the effect is tremendous. Whether they are jumping across rooftops, walking over water, or fighting on the top of a forest of bamboo trees, Lee and choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping (The Matrix, Romeo Must Die) rivet the viewer's attention to the screen. There is some violence, but most of it is not bloody. The flying and jumping enhance the inherent gracefulness of the martial arts, bringing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to another level of drama. Fight scenes are both awe inspiring and tense. When the fighting stops, the effect lingers for a very long time. Meanwhile, universal themes of love, friendship, betrayal and revenge resonate loudly within the story.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also benefits from the caliber of its production. Lee brings his talents in the development of story-driven character dramas and his eye for visuals. Events take place all throughout China, from its lush forests and fog-enshrouded mountains to its urban cities and barren deserts. This adds a sense of grandeur to the movie. Most of the principals already have incredible followings internationally, with growing reputations here. Yuen has choreographed many classic films, but Americans know him best for The Matrix. Yeoh and Chow are mega-stars in Hong Kong. Chow's Li is an imposing, regal fighter, yet signs of his weariness show through. Cheng is a martial arts legend, starring in many classic films decades ago. One interesting item to note is that women have the majority of large roles. They fight without abandon, easily holding their own and winning against the men. It all adds up to a very modern telling of an old-fashioned tale. Lee's combination of classic storytelling with modern age special effects makes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon an unforgettable treat. Movies, especially action movies, usually quickly fade from memory. This one does not.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
1 hour, 59 minutes, Mandarin with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for martial arts violence and some sexuality.

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