This is a Resurfaced review written in 2002 or earlier. For more information, please visit this link: Resurfaced Reviews.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus, Tsai Kuo Jung (Book: Wang Du Lu)
Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Sihung Lung, Cheng Pei-Pei
During the 1950s, it was common for many college students and adults to head out to their local movie house where they could see the latest foreign language film. It was something they did for fun. Today, even college students shy away from subtitled fare. However, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” may change how audiences perceive foreign films.
The film stars Chow Yun-Fat as Li Mu Bai, an ex warrior who must keep the peace when necessary. Michelle Yeoh is Shu Lien, a former lover and student who runs a successful import/export business. Together, they must prevent the corruption of a young girl by outside forces.
Shu Lien has recently arrived at the house of Sir Te (Sihung Lung), a noble of the city, to deliver to him Li Mu Bai’s prize sword, a green blade that resonates when used. Also staying with Sir Te is Governor Yu (Fazeng Li) and his daughter Jen (Zhang Ziyi).
One evening, the sword is stolen from the house. Shu Lien goes out in search of it, discovering a masked thief using ancient secret martial arts techniques. The rest of the film involves the security of the sword and the prevention of the corruption of a young martial artist.
“Crouching Tiger” attempts to be many things at once. First and foremost, it’s a martial arts epic. In the style of many Jackie Chan films, the movie attempts to blend comedy with physics-defying stunts. Secondary, but not unimportant is the romantic relationship between leads Yun-Fat and Yeoh. Then there’s the Old Western battle of good versus evil in an oriental setting.
None of these detracts from the film’s overall appeal. Nor do the performances of Yeoh and Ziyi. Both give Oscar-caliber performances in an otherwise hefty year of stylish performances. Yeoh is emotionally tender, yet physically rough. Her effective combination of tones forge
a terrific three-dimensional feel that her romantic counterpart lacks. Ziyi on the other hand is mysterious and conniving. For her first major role, she manages to mirror the grace and style of her elder screen counterparts.
On the negative side, the film use of flashback to examine Jen’s desert romance with a vagabond is unnecessary backstory that feeds into the narrative methodically, but with a sluggish pace. The only other detriment is the unemotional, unstylish and thoroughly unappealing performance of Yun-Fat.
Luckily the films flaws significantly outweigh its merits and not solely on the written and acted basis. The film is incredibly beautiful to watch. The lush and exotic exteriors are combined nicely with the subtle and intricate interiors. Cinematographer Peter Pau takes us on a visual odyssey unparalleled this year.
Not to be outdone, the visual effects artists who rendered this film took great steps to make the film both real and surreal. During one scene, Lien chases the masked rogue across rooftops and up and down walls. Later, Yun-Fat battles the unmasked bandit high above the ground across the branches of trees. Each scene’s movement was fluid and mystical, without feeling impossible.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a mythical story with modern ideas. Each image is beautifully crafted and memorable. Director Ang Lee does a magnificent job keeping the film from fading into a hodgepodge of nonsensical thoughts and ramblings. Frame to frame, the film manages to keep the audience’s attention without being overbearing. The subtitles rarely interfere with the action, making it easy for foreign-phobic audiences to comprehend and be entertained without feeling overwhelmed.
This is the film NOT to beat at the Academy Awards. So many chances to win, so few chances to lose. The film deserves all of its nominations and should win them all, but probably won’t.
March 9, 2001