Chow Yun-Fat
Michelle Yeoh
Zhang Ziyi
Chen Chang
Sihung Lung
Pei-pei Cheng
Xian Gao
Yan Hai

Ang Lee




Time: 120 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Martial Arts/Drama/Romance

Won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, Original Score, Cinematography and Art Direction. Nominated for 5 other awards including Best Picture.

It's not often that I see foreign films because I hate to read a movie. I know that's fairly close-minded and I miss many great films due to this, but I can't help it. Films are a visual medium with subtext and emotions playing out on the faces of the actors. If you're too busy reading, I think you miss some of the subtleties of a performance due to distraction. It also keeps you at arms length since you have to make an effort to pay attention instead of just letting the film flow over you. That being said, I finally went to see CROUCHING TIGER. The main reason was my extreme respect of Ang Lee and is directorial style. He is a brilliant artist who leaves nothing to chance, creating beautiful pictures that touch your heart.

This film is no different. It is a stunning visual masterpiece that packs an emotional wallop, along with it's amazing choreography. This is epic storytelling of a simple tale, that kept me mesmerized. Though everyone is breathless from the fight sequences, the acting is also a joy to behold, especially from Chow Yun-Fat and newcomer Zhang Ziyi. She is the angry heart of this film and I can't believe this is her first feature. In my opinion, though I didn't necessarily like her character, she gave the best female performance I saw all year. You can't take your eyes off her.

The film follows the adventures of two couples who are deeply in love, but due to circumstances, are unable to be together. Shu Lien (Yeoh) and Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat) are warriors trained in the ways of the Wudan, unable to take comfort in each other and express their true feelings. Shu Lien was once engaged to Li's blood brother who was killed in battle trying to defend him. Though their love is true to be together would dishonor his memory. Shu Lien is stunned when Li Mu Bai arrives at her home and tells her he's giving up the warrior life. She's to take his sword – The Green Destiny – to Peking to his old friend Sir Te for safekeeping. After paying respects to his murdered master, he will join her there. Sir Te (Lung) does not want to accept such a priceless gift, but agrees to be the sword's guardian until Mu Bai wishes it returned. However, he doesn't have to worry long, as the sword is soon stolen from his household. Shu Lien battles the thief, flying over rooftops and fighting hand to hand for possession of this ancient and powerful weapon, but she is not successful in attaining its return. Though she has a clear idea who took it.

"To repress one's feelings only makes them stronger."

In order to avoid scandal, she visits the home of Governor Yu to spend some time with his daughter Jen (Ziyi), whom she met recently and knows admired the sword. Jen is about to be married and is completely jealous of the "freedom" Shu Lien enjoys. Shu Lien knows Jen is hiding something and has a feeling it's more than her fencing skills. She believes Jen is harboring the notorious criminal the Jade Fox (Cheng), the woman responsible for killing Li Ma Bai's master. When Mu Bai arrives in Peking to find his sword missing and Jade Fox in the area, he is forced to return to his old lifestyle to avenge his master's death. In a vicious battle, he not only comes face to face with his sworn enemy, but encounters a powerful young warrior who is in desperate need of a true master, the young Jen. The Wudan stress harmony and meditation as much as fighting skills. Jen is probably the best fighter, Bai has ever seen, but she lacks true discipline, letting her anger rule the day. She has kept her warrior talents from her family and though respects Bai, is not about to submit to anyone. She has trained at the side of the Jade Fox, though has greatly surpassed her mentor's ruffian skills, much to her mentor's dismay.

Though Shu Lien and Mu Bai try to protect Jen and turn her onto the correct path, she no longer wants anything to do with either of them, especially her "sister" Shu Lien. She believes they are just trying to manipulate her and will force her to return to a life she does not want. When they discover her secret love affair with a desert bandit named Lo (Chang), they try to help them be together, but she doesn't want anyone running her life, even if it means having a chance at true happiness. Lo is desperate to be with Jen, to return to the simple life they briefly shared in the desert. Though she knows this was the only time in her life she was at peace, Jen is unable to stop the havoc she has begun. In the end, both couples are forced to watch their chances at happiness slip through their fingers. Bai finally gains the revenge he prayed for, but at a price he was not willing to pay. Jen also pays a heavy toll for her selfishness and her bid for freedom at any cost. She may have learned the skills of a great warrior, but she did not learn the tenets behind the art. Without honor, one's victories are meaningless.

It is rare to come upon a film of such visual splendor and emotional truth. I found it hard to believe that locations such as those filmed actually exist in this world. The harmony and beauty of the landscapes, even the desert ones, contrasts wonderfully with the actual fight scenes. I am not a huge martial arts fan, but I know there has never been choreography like this before. Though the characters are dueling, to the death in some instances, you are mesmerized by the beauty of their movements. From the flying, to the swordplay, to the battle in the bamboo, CROUCHING TIGER is a joy to the senses.

It's also rare to see a film where the women are stronger fighters than the men. They truly kick ass. People believe that women are the weaker sex, but they might think twice about that statement after watching this movie. It proves how dangerous we can be when backed into a corner. Zhang Ziyi is a force to be reckoned with, turning in a performance you won't soon forget. It's funny when she kicks the crap out of a hundred men, but you don't for a moment believe her incapable of it. Yeoh and Yun-Fat will break your heart as they find love too late. It's amazing what can be conveyed in a glance or a touch of the hand. Every time I see Yun-Fat I fall in love with him a little more. His onscreen presence is unstoppable.

Because the fight sequences are so long and elaborate, some of the other more talkative sequences of the film seem to drag a little. I know Lee was trying to achieve harmony and balance, but I got tired by the end because it seemed to take too long to get where it was going. I'm sure there was much more of a plot in the original Mandarin, than in the English translation. There were points throughout the film where I was sure I was missing something. Since I won't be learning Mandarin anytime soon, I guess I'll just have to take the translators word for it. Despite the fact that this is an action movie, it's also one with great heart and a few life lessons, one doesn't usually get from this genre. Ang Lee is a director who makes a point of having something interesting to say and does so using every facet of the filmmaking process, from the music to the cinematography to the acting. CROUCHING TIGER is a roller coaster ride of honest emotions, ancient traditions and dueling wills. It's definitely worth your money and a film that should be seen in a theater. So much of its power and beauty will be lost on the small screen.

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