My regular readers know I have ridiculously high standards for movies. Because of this, very rarely do I watch a movie and feel compelled to voice the word “wow” aloud. But I did today when I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the first time.
This film, produced in 2000 and directed by Ang Lee, was an American, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong co-production. I was surprised to find out that it is based on a famous Chinese novel, the fourth installment of The Crane Iron Pentalogy by Wang Dulu. The plot follows the famous Chinese warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) who seeks to avenge the death of his master at the hands of the villain Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei). However, the elusive Jade Fox has been training a disciple (Jiao Long), a skilled princess fighting to escape an arranged marriage who has quickly surpassed her master. Li Mu Bai and the woman he loves, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) fight to end this threat to China.
I have seen martial arts movies before, mainly Bruce Lee stuff because for a time I dated a Kung Fu black belt who forced me to watch them with him. I remember these movies as having spectacular action, but simplistic, cliché stories. However, that was not the case for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The fantastic martial arts scenes (you, know, people flying on wires, kind of like the Matrix but without Keanu Reeves) were breathtaking, but the story was incredible too. And the characters complex. Each character seemed torn between different desires. Li Mu Bai was torn between avenging his master, retiring in piece, and expressing his feelings for the woman he loved. Yu Shuh Lien in turn was also torn between a woman’s duty and her feelings for Li Mu Bai. And Jen, probably the most complex of all, is torn between fighting for freedom, her love for Lo (Chang Chen) a daughter’s duty, and also doing what is morally right.
And the action was stunning. Some of the most beautiful movements of the human body I have ever seen, even though they are made in an attempt to kill someone.
I do have one complaint, however. In the scene when Li Mu Bai defeats the Jade Fox, everything suddenly looked very fake. The Jade Fox comes after Li Mu Bai with this machine gun-like dart gun and Li Mu Bai blocks them all with his sword until he shatters the metal dart gun with his blade in a very stupid looking way. It really disappointed me. Even though in the rest of the movie, characters are running through the air, it looks natural. But this scene did not. It’s like seeing an expensive Broadway show where a two dollar herpes infested hooker has snuck into the chorus line.
Despite that one out of place scene, I really enjoyed this beautiful movie of love, loss, and honor. I give it a 9 out of 10.
Oh, and a word of advice, don’t watch the English dubbing. I enjoyed it much more when I watched it in Madarin with English subtitles, because the English dubbing just seemed fake.