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Movies
'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'

'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' martial-arts flick on an epic scale

Friday, January 12, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

OK, I know what you're thinking. How can a martial-arts flick be the best movie of the year?

 
 
'Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon'


RATING: PG-13 for martial arts violence and some sexuality.

STARRING: Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang.

DIRECTOR: Ang Lee.

WEB SITE: www.crouching
tiger.com

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

But to label "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as merely a martial-arts flick is like saying "The Godfather" is just a gangster movie or "Star Wars" simply a space opera.

Like these other great films, "Crouching Tiger" towers over its genre and transcends it. Director Ang Lee's movie is also a great romantic adventure and philosophical meditation -- a portrait of self-restraint faced with the temptation of repressed emotional desire, a tale crafted with the delicacy and scope of an epic poem.

Finally, the movie offers astonishing visual rewards, not just in Lee's impeccable use of settings but in some of the most amazing action scenes ever filmed.

The characters do not merely leap through the air, they all but float and fly. One fight scene literally takes place in the treetops. The swordsmanship is everything you would expect but so are the physical talents of the players. There is much action but hardly any violence and only a few driblets of blood. These sequences cross over into a kind of dream fantasy consistent with the overall tenor of the film.

One fight scene in a restaurant, during which one of the characters takes on an army of attackers, recalls a similar sequence in the recent Jackie Chan release "Legend of the Drunken Master," only staged much more artfully.

But you know this is a different kind of martial-arts movie from the very first scene, when legendary warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) returns from an adventure and tells fellow warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) of a vision he has had -- but not one that raised his consciousness to a new level. No, he has glimpsed something horrible.

It seems he wants to lay down his sword, a renowned blade called Green Destiny, although he also wants to fulfill his quest to avenge the murder of his master by a villain known as Jade Fox. But when someone steals Green Destiny, Li and Yu try to retrieve it -- and so the saga begins.

Their story becomes intertwined with that of Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang), a nobleman's daughter who is soon to be married. But she is smitten instead with Yu's exploits as a female adventurer. We learn Jen has her own secret identity and a secret past that involves Lo, a handsome desert bandit portrayed by Chen Chang.

But the story that really counts is often told solely in the faces of the film's implacable leads. There is clearly a spiritual link between Li and Yu and the flicker of yearning passes through their faces in a kind of anguish for what they know is not meant to be. Their destiny lies elsewhere. For one's journey on this earth is not about enlarging the self but denying it. The final shot is at once timeless, poetic, all about letting go.

Ultimately, the tale devolves upon the two women. Yeoh invests Yu with what seems like the wisdom of the ages and the patience that comes with experience, while Zhang makes Jen young, beautiful and impetuous -- and dangerous to underestimate.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is the rare film that borrows liberally from an entire genre and ends up creating something utterly original.



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