Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Review #1,603

Director:  Lee Ang
Cast:  Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeo, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-Pei
Plot:  A warrior gives his sword, Green Destiny, to his lover to deliver for safekeeping, but it is stolen one night.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Fantasy
Awards:  Won 4 Oscars - Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score.  Nom. for 6 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song.  Won People's Choice Award (Toronto)
Runtime:  120 mins
Rating:  NC16 (passed clean) for martial arts violence and some sexuality 
Source:  Sony Pictures Classics

“Crouching tigers and hidden dragons are in the underworld... but so are human feelings.”

Like what Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) did for the epic swords-and-sandals genre, Lee Ang’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had also similarly accomplished for the wuxia movie.  Released in the same year, with both competing fiercely at the Oscars, Lee’s film won four Academy Awards on the night, which on hindsight was quite the feat for a foreign language film.  

Sparking other internationally-acclaimed wuxia films, notably the twin efforts by Zhang Yimou—Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), Crouching Tiger has become the barometer to which the modern wuxia film is judged.  Nearly two decades on, it remains an absolute classic, like A Touch of Zen (1971) for the 21st century.

A co-production of unprecedented scope (between Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and the US), Lee’s film opened doors for more intimate collaborations between countries in terms of production, marketing and distribution.  Which explains the lasting legacy of this terrific film, while elevating Lee to the highest tier of filmmaking.  

Crouching Tiger centers on Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), renowned swordsman and swordswoman respectively who have repressed feelings for each other.  Li’s famous Green Destiny sword gets stolen by a skilful thief, and that kickstarts this action spectacle that also has a lot of heart.  Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen round up the star-studded cast as lovers from an earlier time as their past catches up with them.

Interwoven with elaborate fight sequences that aren’t just a brilliant showcase of ‘wire-fu’ or Yuen Woo-Ping’s renowned action choreography, the film’s commingling of action with Tan Dun’s Oscar-winning music, particularly the use of percussion to moderate pace and create tension and rhythm, is spectacular to behold from an aural-visual standpoint.  An early sequence centering on a “night fight” between a masked thief and Shu Lien is an astounding example of such a marriage.  

As a period piece, it enchants with its art direction and cinematography, bringing viewers back to centuries-old China, and in an extended mid-segment flashback (which if you think of it, feels oddly placed, but near-perfectly executed) featuring Zhang and Chang’s characters, we are transported to the vast deserts of Xinjiang, home to ethnic minority groups.  Lee’s use of an excerpted recording of the famous “Caravan Bells on the Silk Road” piece that accompanies a playful scene between the two lovers speaks volume of his artistic taste and respect for a fascinating part of Chinese spatial-cultural history.

Verdict:  A modern wuxia classic that continues to excite and enchant like no other.





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