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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Poetry in Motion

Before the screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a game show host-voiced announcer told us that the film was like Vertical Limit meets Titanic. Who wants to hear that crap right before you're about to see a potentially kick-ass, beautiful, artistic film? There's enough buzz surrounding Ang Lee's martial arts/fantasy/romance to raise some speculation - gushing critics, behind-the-scenes brouhaha on Bravo - but in this case, believe the hype. The best way to see Crouching Tiger, to tell the truth, is to know as little about the film as possible, and just sit yourself down in a huge dark theater and see what unfolds before your widening eyes. So if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading.
Ang Lee's not a stickler for any one genre. He's gone from gay/multicultural romance (The Wedding Banquet) to Taiwanese relationships and food (Eat Drink Man Woman) to British period piece (Sense and Sensibility) to dysfunctional WASPy families (The Ice Storm) to Civil War drama (Ride with the Devil, which I never saw because I have a hard time accepting Jewel as an actress, let alone as a Civil War-era woman). Lee's genre hopping seems mentally exhausting, but lucky for us he didn't go down the same road as Ride with the Devil (although it's a decent flick) and make another movie with Jewel. Instead, Lee stepped back into the tradition of martial arts cinema (think Chinese Ghost Story) and in the process he's created a visual stunner that merits all the gushing reviews, like this one's about to be.

Crouching Tiger is a story of forbidden love, repressed desires, and, what's more, the two main driving forces in the film are Asian women. Michelle Yeoh plays Yu Shu Lien, a woman whose quiet strength won the heart of martial arts hero Li Mu Bai (a Zen-faced Chow Yun Fat) years ago, but because of honor, pride, and cultural rules their passion for each other's never been able to pierce the surface. When Li Mu Bai entrusts Yu Shu Lien with his sacred sword the Green Destiny, it's soon stolen away, leaving speculation and conspiracy lingering in the air.
When the governor's soon-to-be-married young daughter Jen Yu (an amazing Zhang Ziyi) comes on the scene and deeply bonds with Yu Shu Lien, the action, and story, unfolds. As action films go, this one's been described as a Taoist martial arts film, and that it is. Lee never beats you over the head with violence, speed, or gore. Instead, the feel of the entire film, including the fighting sequences, keeps with the languid intensity of the character's emotions. I cried during the first fight scene. It's moving in the same way an incredible dance piece can move you to extreme emotions. But the best thing about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the thing that had me weighted to my seat after the final scene, is that it's not at all what you expect. Maybe it's all Lee's training as a genre-jumper, but to call this a martial arts film, or a fantasy, or any one term, only touches on what he's created here.

One word of advice: Leave the theater as soon as the closing credits start rolling. There's a Celine Dion-esque English language song that's almost sappy enough to ruin what you've just seen. Almost.


Crouching Tiger, Burning Dragon
Rated R
2 hours 2 minutes

Michelle Yeoh
Zhang Ziyi
Chang Chen
Chow Yun Fat
Michelle Khan