Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Hong Kong wuxia films, or martial arts fantasies, traditionally squeeze poor acting, slapstick humor, and silly story lines between elaborate fight scenes in which characters can literally fly. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has no shortage of breathtaking battles, but it also has the dramatic soul of a Greek tragedy and the sweep of an epic romance. This is the work of director Ang Lee, who fell in love with movies while watching wuxia films as a youngster and made Crouching Tiger as a tribute to the form. To elevate the genre above…
Hong Kong wuxia films, or martial arts fantasies, traditionally squeeze poor acting, slapstick humor, and silly story lines between elaborate fight scenes in which characters can literally fly. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has no shortage of breathtaking battles, but it also has the dramatic soul of a Greek tragedy and the sweep of an epic romance. This is the work of director Ang Lee, who fell in love with movies while watching wuxia films as a youngster and made Crouching Tiger as a tribute to the form. To elevate the genre above its B-movie roots and broaden its appeal, Lee did two important things. First, he assembled an all-star lineup of talent, joining the famous Asian actors Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh with the striking, charismatic newcomer Zhang Ziyi. Behind the scenes, Lee called upon cinematographer Peter Pau (The Killer, The Bride with White Hair) and legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo-ping, best known outside Asia for his work on The Matrix. Second, in adapting the story from a Chinese pulp-fiction novel written by Wang Du Lu, Lee focused not on the pursuit of a legendary sword known as “The Green Destiny,” but instead on the struggles of his female leads against social obligation. In his hands, the requisite fight scenes become another means of expressing the individual spirits of his characters and their conflicts with society and each other.
The filming required an immense effort from all involved. Chow and Yeoh had to learn to speak Mandarin, which Lee insisted on using instead of Cantonese to achieve a more classic, lyrical feel. The astonishing battles between Jen (Zhang) and Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh) on the rooftops and Jen and Li Mu Bai (Chow) atop the branches of bamboo trees required weeks of excruciating wire and harness work (which in turn required meticulous “digital wire removal”). But the result is a seamless blend of action, romance, and social commentary in a populist film that, like its young star Zhang, soars with balletic grace and dignity. —Eugene Wei
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is so many things: an historical epic on a grand scale, an Asian martial-arts flick with both great effects and fantastic fighting (choreographed by The Matrix’s guru Yuen Wo Ping), a story of magic, revenge and power played with a posse of star-crossed lovers thrown in for good measure. Set during the Qing dynasty (the late 19th century), the film follows the fortunes of righteous warriors Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien (Asian superstars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, respectively) whose love for one another has lain too long unspoken. When Li Mu Bai’s legendary sword Green Destiny is stolen by wilful aristocrat’s daughter Jen (exquisite newcomer Zhang Ziyi), who has been trained in the way of the gangster by Li Mu Bai’s arch-rival Jade Fox, the warriors must fight to recover the mystical blade. The plot takes us all across China, from dens of iniquity and sumptuous palaces to the stark plains of the Western desert. Characters chase each other up walls and across roof and treetops to breathtaking effect, and Tan Dun’s haunting, Oscar-winning East-West inflected score.
Directed by Taiwanese-born Ang Lee and co-written by his longtime collaborator American James Schamus, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon joins the ranks of the team’s slate of high-quality, genre-spanning literary adaptations. Although it superficially seems like a return to Ang’s Asian roots, there’s a clear throughline connecting this with their earlier, Western films given the thematic focus on propriety and family honour (Sense and Sensibility), repressed emotions (The Ice Storm) and divided loyalties in a time of war (Ride with the Devil). Nonetheless, a film this good needs no prior acquaintance with the director’s oeuvre; it stands on its own. The only people who might be dismissive of it are jaded chop-socky fans who will probably feel bored with all the romance. Everyone else will love it.—Leslie Felperin
On the DVD: As might be expected this superb anamorphic widescreen version of the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio presents Peter Pau’s spellbinding cinematography in its full glory; the same goes for the Dolby 5.1 audio track that showcases Tan Dun’s haunting score. Annoyingly, however, the default language option is the dubbed English soundtrack, which means you have to select the original Mandarin version before playing. The extra features are good but not exceptional, with an obligatory “making-of” documentary and commentary from Ang Lee and James Schamus being the best options: the director and producer/cowriter chat amiably and in some detail about their martial arts version of Sense and Sensibility. But it’s the breathtaking delight of the seeing the movie in such quality that really counts, and this disc does not disappoint. —Mark Walker
Barnes and Noble
A hypnotically fascinating hybrid produced by crossing martial-arts adventure with fairy-tale romance, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon quickly became the most successful foreign film ever released in the U.S. Chow Yun-Fat, an international superstar whose English-language films include Anna and the King, portrays a Chinese warrior who retires from a life of violence and relinquishes custody of his fabled sword, the magnificent Green Destiny. Hong Kong action star and erstwhile Bond girl Michelle Yeoh plays the longtime friend and admirer whose father is entrusted with the sword. A thrill-seeking young aristocrat (Zhang Ziyi), working with an evil mentor whom Chow once swore to kill, steals the sword—and the chase is on. The characters square off in a series of exhilarating, occasionally dreamlike confrontations—including a particularly memorable scene that unfolds amid windblown treetops—staged with split-second precision and choreographic grace. As directed by Ang Lee (The Ice Storm), Crouching Tiger assumes multiple aspects; it offers two contrasting love stories that are at various points wistful, soaring, melancholy, and profoundly spiritual. It is, in every way, an impeccably executed film that refuses to be confined by formula and therefore delights on many levels. Ed Hulse
The classical works of Tan Dun typically fuse compositional elements from the East and the West, but for his soundtrack to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, musical cultures aren’t so much blurred as coexistent side-by-side. While the magical martial arts film doesn’t boast music as stunning as its visuals, this soundtrack is still beautiful and elegant, a perfect complement to the movie’s mysticism. Just don’t expect epic, John Williams-inspired bombast here. On “A Wedding Interrupted,” the riveting brass and string section introduction segues…