Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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The ViewAuckland Review

Review byMatthew Turner12/01/2001

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 120 mins

Lee’s latest film, described as "Jane Austen meets Bruce Lee" – a romantic epic with the most amazing fight scenes you’ll see all year, it might just be the perfect date movie…

As befits an epic film such as this, the plot is too complicated to describe properly. The film adheres strictly to the conventions of the wu xia martial arts stories, unfamiliar to westerners, but as well-known as fairy-tales in China (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is actually adapted from the fourth novel of a five-book saga).

This means that during the fight scenes, the actors actually fly through the air, run up walls and perform various other amazing physical feats. This can seem initially off-putting to audiences unfamiliar with wu xia, although after the initial shock wears off, it undoubtedly heightens the excitement of the sequences, all of which are expertly choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, the man behind the fight scenes in The Matrix.

The plot revolves around five central characters: legendary warrior Li Mu Bai (Asian superstar Chow Yun Fat), security service head Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh, familiar to western audiences from Tomorrow Never Dies), Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of an aristocrat who secretly desires the life of the warrior, Lo (Chang Chen), the bandit outlaw she falls in love with, and evil, mystical supervillain Jade Fox (Cheng Pei Pei), who has murdered Li Mu’s master, and taken Jen under her wing, schooling her in the Wudan martial arts.

The action kicks off after the theft of Li Mu’s mythical ‘Green Destiny’ sword, and takes in two separate love stories – the unrequited, respectful, unspoken, yet deeply felt love between Shu Lien and Li Mu (their scenes together are wonderful), and the fiery, forbidden, passionate love (told in flashback) between Jen and Lo - their unusual courtship seems to consist of them repeatedly beating each other up until they fall in love.

And then, of course, there are the wonderful fight scenes – highlights include Shu Lien’s first rooftop confrontation with the cat-burglar-like thief (hypnotically set to a single drumbeat – if your jaw doesn’t drop open in amazement then there’s no hope for you); Jen’s wonderful western-inspired bar-room brawl scene, where she takes out a roomful of bandits; and a later confrontation between Jen and Shu Lien where they go at each other with every weapon imaginable.

The tree-top fight between Jen and Li Mu is currently being spoken of with reverential awe, and though technically the least exciting of the fights, it’s worth noting that it’s really the actors in those tree-tops – computers were only used to hide the wires.

The acting, as you’d expect from an Ang Lee film, is uniformly excellent, with Chow Yun Fat and Yeoh both on top form. The real revelation though is Zhang Ziyi (previously only seen in Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home) – she’s a truly electric presence on screen and clearly a major star in the making. In short, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon delivers on just about every level imaginable, satisfying action and romance fans alike. You won’t see another movie like this all year. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 27/01/2020 02:57

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