Martial arts doesn’t have to be violent and fueled with testosterone. It can also be romantic, beautiful, and filled with magic. Ang Lee dabbles into the martial arts cinema which has seen the birth of his greatest film yet: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Based on the wuxia pian – a Chinese mythical code of martial chivalry that inspired Chinese literature and Hong Kong sword-fighting movies. This is a movie that will bring Shakespeare to his knees, and make us forget about the Karate Kids and Bruce Lees.
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The Movie Review
Set in 19th-century China, a legendary warrior named Li Mu Bai decides to hang up his sword – the mystical Green Destiny, after retiring from his quest to avenge the murder of his master. He entrusts his weapon to the love of his life and equally-skilled fighting partner, Yu Shu Lien.
Although meant to be delivered as a gift to a respected man in Beijing, Sir Te, the Green Destiny ends up in the wrong hands. After a long investigation, they discover the thief is a rebellious daughter of a high-ranking official, Jen. Unhappy with her arranged marriage, Jen longs for a life of adventure and envies Yu’s independence. However, she’s been highly trained in the Wudan arts by no other than the notorious Jade Fox.
Hong Kong martial arts coordinator Yuen Wo Ping is known for choreographing astounding fight sequences for kung fu classics such as The Magnificent Butcher and Drunken Master. He chose to focus on the dance-like art of sword-fighting, not rushing immediately from scene to scene but instead indulging in the present, leaving you in awe every second. When it comes to breathing the characters into life, leave it all up to Ang Lee in making the tragic love stories feel as real as they are magical, while having a little bit of sly humor.
There are many things to love about this movie, one: the gloriously choreographed fight scenes, two: the emotional tension between lovers in the story, and three: the incredibly dazzling performances from Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh. The film is at heart a feminist one, and many moments are stolen by the female characters. Take a look at the fight scenes between the two, you just have to see it to believe it. From the most unforgettable bar room brawl, to a breathtaking sword duel on top of a tree, you’ll be holding yourself from screaming in delight.
The beautiful Chinese sceneries they’re accompanied with are done justice by cinematographer Peter Pau’s poetic vision, who essentially turned this film into a fairytale. The soundtrack, by Tan Dun, incorporates both Chinese and western traditions and is also beautiful.
Lastly, I respect Lee’s decision to make the script Mandarin instead of English, setting a greater challenge for everyone including the cast (who didn’t speak the language) in making this Oscar-winning film.
There was one main thing I didn’t like in the movie and it’s that there weren’t enough fight scenes!! Depending on what you consider a fight, I counted a total of five in the two-hour-long movie. And that is a total bummer, considering that they had frickin’ Yuen Wo Ping choreograph the fight scenes. There were also times where it’s obvious that the actors were supported by harnesses, which really takes away from the immersion of the film.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is incredibly emotional, complex, and has one of the most breathtaking martial arts scenes in cinematic history. Describing what the film is about is difficult, if anything it’s a poem – about destiny, true love, and one’s place in society. It deserves all the awards it gets and should be recognized for what it is: a good movie.