Review by Jack Foley
DESCRIBED by its director and stars as a cross between Sense and Sensibility and The Matrix, Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is as audacious and spectacular as movies get.
Starring former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh (of Tomorrow Never Dies fame) and Chow Yun Fat (Anna and the King), Crouching Tiger tells the fantastical tale of two legendary Qing dynasty warriors who have sacrificed their personal happiness and feelings towards each other in favour of the noble pursuit of justice. However, when Chow's mystical swordsman Li Mu Bai decides to hang up his ancient sword, `Green Destiny', after a lifetime of bloodshed, he entrusts Yeoh's Yu Shu Lien to deliver it to Beijing and inadvertently triggers a chain of events which will put their feelings to the ultimate test.
The sword is stolen and suspicion falls on a young noblewoman (Zhang Ziyi), who is due to be married, but who harbours a secret love and a burning desire to become one of the warriors she so often hears about. In the ensuing mayhem, betrayal begets betrayal and old grievances re-emerge as both Lien and Bai are given the opportunity to avenge past colleagues and heal old wounds.
Lee's film is told on an epic scale and is set against some sweeping Chinese backdrops, which only serve to heighten the mystical feel of the picture. His use of location is sublime, taking in the remote Flaming Mountain of Xinjiang, the mysterious peaks of Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) and the country's majestic deserts and glacier valleys. Yet by punctuating his story with some truly awe-inspiring martial arts sequences, Lee strikes gold and really succeeds in making viewers believe in a fictional world "where people can fly and anything can happen".
Credit must therefore go to fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, who worked on The Matrix, for inventing some jaw-dropping set pieces which, quite simply, take the breath away. If The Matrix was responsible for creating a new kind of action formula, then this is the next step and fight fanatics will not be disappointed. Lee, not typically associated with the kind of genre reserved for John Woo or the Wachowski brohers, has snuck up and delivered a kick in the teeth to all the usual suspects, delivering a picture which engages the brain and delivers on the eye candy.
If his script becomes clunky and cliched at times, then this even seems deliberate (harking back to a bygone era of Chinese cinema), for it also has the ability to delight in many ways, proving that the director has lost none of his ability for great story-telling, as exemplified by former works such as Ride With The Devil and The Ice Storm. And viewers must not be put off by the fact the movie is subtitled, for this is an art house film which should more than satisfy the mainstream hardcore.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a masterpiece.