Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei
Chinese Title: Wo hu cang long
Director: Lee Ang
Writing Credits: Wang Du Lu, Wang Hui-Ling, James Schamus, Tsai Kuo Jung
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat,. Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen
Genre: Sword-fighting action
Country: Taiwan, Hong Kong
Year Released: 2000
Runtime: 120 min
Rating: ** (out of four stars)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the latest offering from Lee Ang, the master of character dramas like Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility, and The Ice Storm. It is his first martial arts movie, and it is a mixed bag of offerings. Part pugilistic movie, part romance story, part comedy, Crouching Tiger is definitely not a typical martial arts flick.
The story revolves around Xiu Lian (Michelle Yeoh), a female pugilist, and her soul mate of many years, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat). Mu Bai is tired of the pugilistic world, and decides to remove himself from the trappings of the pugilistic world by asking Xiu Lian to take his treasured sword to Beijing as a gift to a friend. Once at Beijing however, Xiu Lian gets involved in the dual life of Jiao Long (Zhang Ziyi), demure daughter of the local governor by day, skilled pugilist cum thief by night. Jiao Long longs to break free from her staid life, but in the process of seeking out her freedom, she draws everyone around her into a situation which could only end in tragedy.
There are several things to like about Crouching Tiger. It features breathtaking scenery, both of the deserts and the mountains. It also boasts well-nuanced performances from the four leads, namely Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen. Zhang Ziyi, despite being a relative newcomer, plays the role of the spoilt, innocent yet malicious Jiao Long very realistically, and her exceptional beauty is another plus. In the capable hands of Lee Ang, who is undisputedly one of the best directors of human drama, all four leads manage to assume three dimensions, which is rare in martial arts movies.
The martial arts sequences are also another plus point of the movie. Fluidly choreographed, and usually accompanied by a frantic drum beat in the background, the martial arts sequences transcend most sequences found in other similar movies. Also, the usual exaggerated sound effects employed in such scenes are absent, and the audience is subjected to more normal and raw sound effects, which adds to the realism of the sequences. One particularly noteworthy scene is one where Jiao Long and Xiu Lian spar for the first time, which almost resembles a complex dance rather than a sparring sequence. Unfortunately, the qing gong (flying) sequences were rather unrealistic, with the characters flitting from point to point, as though they had wings and weighed less than a feather. For those interested in the soundtrack, cello solos in the film were performed by Yo Yo Ma.
A few things marred the enjoyment of this show, however. Other than the unrealistic qing gong, there were some scenes with rather stilted and unnatural dialogue. Worse was both Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat's Mandarin. At times they were totally incomprehensible, and I had to depend on English subtitles to understand what they were saying. Also, there were a few plot improbabilities and contrivances, but that is a common trait among most movies these days, so I can't really complain. The exposition scenes were also a wee bit long, and the movie may have been better if 15 minutes of its 120 minute run time were lopped off the final cut.
I feel that more than a martial arts movie, Crouching Tiger is actually a human drama about unrequited love, which is a rather prevalent theme in the movie. Definitely not a normal martial arts movie by any margin, Crouching Tiger can still be an entertaining two hours if you are willing to overlook the flaws in the movie. Perhaps a breakthrough movie for Hollywood, but for Asians weaned on such movies since years back, Crouching Tiger can only be considered a kung fu movie that is slightly above average.
Final Word: Not your everyday martial arts flick, but still entertaining in its own right.