A romantic adventure set in ancient China, with themes of loyalty, duty, treachery and, of course, love. Gorgeous photography, fabulous effects (you’ll believe a girl – among others- can fly!), a labyrinthine plot that you don’t have to worry too much about, brilliant action sequences and a cracking young heroine add up to a film that stretches and transcends the martial arts genre.
China/Taiwan/USA 2000, 120 minutes
The legendary warrior Li Mu Bai decides the time has come to hang up his sword, the Green Destiny – or rather, to give it to a respected leader, Sir Te, where it will be in safe hands. He entrusts it to his old friend Yu Shu Lien, in many ways his female counterpart. At Sir Te’s Shu Lien meets Jen, a rebellious young woman who has a secret liaison with Lo, an outlaw. Jen longs to be a warrior and is skilled in the martial arts, but hasn’t been taught the ethics that go with them. And then Green Destiny is stolen.
That’s quite enough plot for now; this film has a lot more. In fact it has a lot of lots of things: there are Arthurian overtones – Green Destiny can only be wielded by a honourable warrior – and thoughts on honour, chivalry and the art of government. There’s the passionate love story of Jen and Lo, contrasted with the restrained relationship of Mu Bai and Shu Lien, who can express their deep mutual respect but not their love. It has gorgeous photography, of wild landscapes and fire-lit interiors. It has exciting action sequences and fantastically choreographed fights, each one different and each contributing to the plot. And wonderful special effects – combat overrides the laws of gravity and the combatants fly through the air with the greatest of ease, over the roofs and through the trees, making the fights (according to how willing you are to be a good audience and suspend disbelief) magical or slightly silly.
Director Ang Lee’s output has been varied, to say the least, ranging from The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and he seems equally at home in Chinese or Western culture. He’s succeeded in creating a film at once popular and artistic, acceptable to western audiences but true to Chinese myth and the best of martial arts traditions. It’s an action movie that will appeal to men and women – Jen and Shu Lien are effective fighters, not Pussy Galore-type characters for male fantasies but real women who have perfected their art.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may not be Lee’s best film – it’s quite slow in places, and the plot takes some following – but it may be his most memorable, and is certainly his most commercially successful. So far.
Li Mu Bair: Chow Yun-Fat
Yu Shu Lien: Michelle Yeoh
Jen: Zhang Ziyi
Lo: Chang Chen
Director: Ang Lee
Photography: Peter Pau
Fight choreographer: Yuen Wo Ping
“Superb. Beautiful. Fantastical!”
“A stunningly beautiful film”
“Spectacular! Very haunting music.”
“The score was fantastic!”
“Visually spectacular & very imaginative. Fight sequences sometimes over-long for my taste & video-game style odd in contrast with the other more realistic scenes.”
“Beautiful photography; gripping (but absurd) story.”
“Stunning scenery but puzzling plot. …Sword fights (too many) make Frenchman’s Creek look like child’s play.
“Amazing. I couldn’t see the wires!”
“Too many fights – too thin a plot.”
“Eat your heart out Errol Flynn [dagger sketch] & Basil Rathbone!”
“Come back Zorro – all is forgiven.”
“Eastern Peter Pan meets weak MFI!”
“The new projection [system] is excellent, including the legible sub-titles. Thank you for introducing this. Lovely music.”