Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
"A faithful heart makes wishes come true."
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is officially Taiwanese but the characters speak Mandarin Chinese. It is a vision of China as Lee imagined it from the sweeping tales he read as a child. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat), one of the greatest martial arts warriors who ever lived, decides to give up the craft and his famous sword, the Green Destiny. He asks Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), also a renowned fighter, to take the sword to Sir Te, a trusted aristocrat living in Peking. At Sir Te’s, Shu Lien meets Jen (Zhang Ziyi), the teenage daughter of a public official. Seemingly naive, Jen befriends Shu Lien, claiming to want to know more about the life of the warrior.
When the Green Destiny is stolen by a masked thief, Shu Lien begins to suspect Jen as well as Jade Fox (Pei-Pei Chang), a well-known criminal mastermind. She asks Li Mu Bai to trust her to find the sword using her own means.
The problem, if there is one, is that the story doesn’t have the depth to be truly engaging as a fantasy. It’s too thin, too straightforward and sometimes a little silly. The Green Destiny isn’t sufficiently hallowed, but rather mindlessly passed around from hand to hand until we start to lose track of it. And the romance between Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien has been praised for its subtlety and understatement, but it was a little bit too understated for me; I couldn’t feel it.
A flaw like this may have been deadly to just about any other movie, but with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it borders on irrelevant. The story is more than enough of a backbone to support the incredible action set pieces. Ang Lee puts the actors through every form of torture imaginable: he suspends them from treetops, has them run across rooftops and use various deadly weapons on each other. The overall effect is astonishing: the choreography by Yuen-Wo Ping (who also staged the kickass fight scenes in The Matrix) as well as Lee’s brilliant camerawork leave the viewers gasping for breath. The first time I saw the film, the arthouse audence broke into spontaneous applause after the first such scene, perhaps because the twenty minutes of exposition that preceded it set it up so perfectly.
Zhang Ziyi, in a performance that should give her international career a rocket boost, is amazing as the mysterious, impulsive Jen. Not only does her physical dexterity come in extremely handy but her expressiveness elicits sympathy from her sort-of villainous character. She strikes the precarious balance of wickedness and likeability, making the film’s central conflict all the more suspenseful.
The action builds to a stunning, surprising ending that does justice to everything that comes before it. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is possibly my favorite kind of movie, one that transports you to a new world you’ve never seen and makes you want to stay. I could have used a thicker storyline but that, oddly enough, turns out to be just a minor quibble.
-- Eugene Novikov
|Starring:||Pei-Pei Cheng, Chen Chang, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chow Yun-Fat|
|Directed by:||Ang Lee|