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Retro Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Short Attention Span Review™

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

4.5

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon PosterIf you think I am giving the film too much praise, go see the film for yourself.  This film possesses layers upon layers of quality and skill.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is near cinema perfection, and I am not exaggerating.  The film actually got better with a second viewing.  Be prepared to be amazed. Be prepared to see this year's best film.  And if that's not enough praise, I don't know what is.

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The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on December 9th, 2000.

Here are some updated thoughts:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was my first exposure to Chinese fantasay, also known as “Wuxia.”  Wuxia has elements of “wushu” which translates roughly to “martial arts.”  At the time I wasn’t a great follower of Asian cinema (I’m still not really) having only been exposed to many of the movies by Akira Kurosawa and their translations into English versions, usually westerns.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon really was a revelation.  Not because it was a Chinese fantasy movie that I thought was amazing, but because (at least in my mind) it exposed me to elements of fantasy in a completely different manner.  I’d never seen anything like it before!  So different than western fantasy, and so much more beautiful.  Where western fantasy comes across as clumsy, brutish, and in your face; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon comes across as graceful, subtle, and whimsical.

The one thing I found distracting was watching it in Mandarin and having to read subtitles.  I know . . . blasphemy!  But hear me out.  I understand that watching a movie in its native language is immersive and lends authenticity, but in a sweeping epic like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where there’s so much to see, so much action, so many sweeping vistas and beautiful sets . . . it distracts me from soaking in everything about the film.  A nit, really, and just one man’s lazy opinion.

As predicted, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon went on to win 44 awards from various bodies around the world, including 4 Oscars.

Every once in a while, a magical film that is like nothing you’ve seen before hits the silver screen.  It seems that Hollywood has exhausted every storyline there is.  So it’s a rare treat to see a film that is actually different and original.  Anyone who reads my reviews can probably predict how I feel about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  After seeing the film for a second time, I can say without any trace of doubt that this is the best film that will hit theaters this year.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an epic martial arts film set in Imperial China.  You have two warriors who have hidden feelings for each other.  The male warrior, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), has one of the most powerful swords in the world and when this sword is stolen by a young masked warrior, he must go and try to stop the thief from using the sword for evil purposes.  He teams up with Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to stop the young thief from succumbing to her darker side.

The thief in question is a young princess who needs more from her closed-up life.  Ziyi Zhang (played by newcomer Jen Yu) is in love with a thief who is wanted by the highest authorities.  She was kidnapped by this thief but the kidnapping turned into a spicy romance.  She will do anything in her power to be able to run away with her love, so she steals the sword in the hopes of finding her lover and escaping with him.

The story is significantly more complex than that.  The characters have a rare depth.  I’ve rarely seen characters which were so full and complete.  This is more than a simple martial art film, it’s also a love story and an epic romance.  This film has something for everyone; it has sexy scenery, a great romance, amazing action sequences and terrific acting.  So many scenes from this film are worth mentioning that it would take too long to do them justice.  And it would be a sin to divulge too many of the film’s secrets.  I saw this film without knowing anything about it.  I saw it with a fresh mind and fresh eyes.  I knew nothing about the plot and I knew nothing about its aesthetics.  Of course, most moviegoers won’t be this lucky.  Most of us have now seen the film’s trailer and the film’s posters.  We know about the film’s magic and the film’s story.  Saying too much about the film’s plot would ruin a perfectly amazing cinematic experience.

The one thing I will say is that this film blends all of the aforementioned elements in a totally new way.  The story has magic mixed into it.  The warriors in this film can fly; they jump from roof top to rooftop, they fly over water.  And, in what is the film’s most amazing moment, they even fight in tree tops.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon becomes a fairy tale in its own little way.  The story is incredibly dreamlike and its events are elegantly staged.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon PosterTwo master warriors are faced with their greatest challenge when the treasured Green Destiny sword is stolen.  A young aristocrat prepares for an arranged marriage, but soon reveals her superior fighting talents and her deeply romantic past.  As each warrior battles for justice, they come face to face with their worst enemy — and the inescapable, enduring power of love.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director:  Ang Lee
Starring:  Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang
Genre:  Fantasy / Martial Arts
Media:  Film, 120 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Budget: $17 million
Box Office: $213 million, worldwide
Year: December 8, 2000 (U.S.)
4.5 out of 5 stars

But what makes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon so different from other film is that it has a heart.  There’s a long section where Ziyi Zhang tells us about her romance with Chen Chang.  This section looks more like an epic film than a martial art film.  The romance in this part of the story is intense and vibrant, and offers the best romance in years.

The film was directed by Ang Lee, who has become one of the most celebrated Hollywood directors.  In the last few years alone, he did three amazing films: Sense & Sensibility, The Ice Storm and Ride With The Devil.  But Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is his best film yet.  It might also very well be the best film of his career.  The whole film is shot with such skill and so much love, it’s as if Ang Lee has fallen in love with his story in the early stages and the final product is simply the labor of his love for the script.  The film was supposed to be shot in English, but to the studio’s dismay, Lee decided to shoot the entire film in Mandarin.  The film is only improved by keeping its original language, and would not have been as striking had it been done in English.

I am still amazed at how beautiful and how powerful this film was.  The action sequences are so unbelievably well done.  The guy who choreographed the action sequences for this film also worked on The Matrix, but the fight sequences in that film are nothing compared to the ones in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Be prepared to be amazed.  Be prepared to be thrilled.

There is no doubt that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the best film of the year.  I only wish that all the films could be as exquisite as this one.  Ang Lee hit the jackpot with this film, and I can’t think of one bad thing to say about it.  It’s rare to find yourself a part of such a perfect experience.  There will not be a better film this year, you have my word on this.

If you think I’m giving the film too much praise, go see it for yourself.  This film possesses layers upon layers of quality and skill.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is near cinema perfection, and I am not exaggerating.  The film actually got better with a second viewing.  Be prepared to be amazed.  Be prepared to see this year’s best film.  And if that’s not enough praise, I don’t know what is.

Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Engineer by training, nerd by passion. Speculative fiction has influenced me since I was a kid, guiding me to the career I have now, and likely saving me from myself during times in my young life when the path was fraught with a minefield of choices. I dabble in tech, game, film, fiction, and writing. These are my true passions, and have been since the summer of '77.