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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

 

Sweet fan art posterage
Sweet fan art posterage

Genre: Action Adventure Drama (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, USA)

Starring: Yun-Fat Chow (The Killer • Hard-Boiled), Michelle Yeoh (SupercopTomorrow Never Dies), Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a GeishaHouse of Flying Daggers)

Directed By: Ang Lee (Brokeback MountainLust, Caution)

Overview: Sword master Li Mu Bai choses to give up his martial arts, sending his ancient sword, Green Destiny, to Peking. Once there, is it stolen by a disciple of the notorious Jade Fox, the murderer of Li Mu Bai’s master. Li Mu Bai and his friend, Yu Shu Lien seek to retrieve the ancient sword.

This paragraph is strictly for those who’ve seen the film, who never plan on seeing the film, or who don’t mind every hook, line and twister being ruined before they see it (you people are weird)...
Click here to skip the spoiler bit.

What truly sets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon apart from the normal is its incredible ending. What could very easily have been a happy ending many times over for every character is made a beautifully original and tragic conclusion. Beginning with one single poison needle from Jade Fox’s spring-loaded cane, our characters are faced with the reality of imminent death, though there is a lingering hope of finding the antidote. We expect this to be a suspense-building device to ramp up the drama, but the film opts for the tragic end of Li Mu Bai [Enter Oscar speech here]. Then, after, when our young mournful-lesson-learned Jen Yu is finally reunited with the man she loves, what could have then become a bittersweet ending is made wholly, romantically crushing, turning a sweet fairy-tale legend into foreshadowing for her suicide. With so many outs and opportunities to make the audience happy at the end, we’re instead shown something far more fresh, and immensely more poetic. I truly believe that this is one of the main reasons Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has etched its way into a thousand must-see lists of our cinematic history.
 
What?! ANOTHER Fight scene? Sheesh

One of the things that makes this film so spectacular is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s simple yet detailed plot. We open with Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow), a Wudang Sword master who has decided to stop fighting and pursue a peaceful life. He visits his old friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and asks her to transport his ancient and incredibly crafted sword, Green Destiny, to his friend in Peking and offer it as a gift. Once she arrives and presents the sword, she meets Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang), the young daughter of an aristocrat. Jen is soon to be married, but is envious of Yu Shu Lien’s life of adventure. In fact, Jen Yu’s a skilled martial artist and thief herself, taking Green Destiny for herself and her mistress, the notorious Jade Fox, mortal enemy of Li Mu Bai. And so the plot thickens.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, isn’t anywhere near your typical Kung-Fu movie. Naturally there is fighting, but each scene that sports it does so with a master’s craft – literally breathtaking – featuring different weapons and vastly different settings – from treetop swordfights to training arenas filled with weapons of all kind, my personal favourite being a tremendously epic barfight. But along with it comes copious amounts of epic landscapes and detailed scenery, not to mention a rich and compelling story. Rather than having a predictable plot that moves towards a safe, predictable ending, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is filled with twists: issues that get resolved crop up again, characters are added half-way through and add weight and depth to people we thought we knew. Even the bad guys have their truly believable perspective - something that is, happily, far more than hand-wringing, "You Fool!"-shouting maniacal cackling. I would also be remiss if I didn’t touch upon how strong our female complement of characters are. In fact, they outnumber the men and push a feminist side we rarely see in cinema, much less in a Kung-Fu film.

More than anything, it is the title that speaks most to the focus on the plot’s underlying themes rather than kicks to the head. What may seem to be the names of two Kung-Fu styles is instead a statement on the evil and intrigue that our characters face in this world:

Crouching tigers and hidden dragons are in the underworld... but so are human feelings. - Li Mu Bai

Hubba Hubba! *URGH*

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 10 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 86% (Lean In Close)
Aftertaste:

The first time I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it was in a theater full of people expecting the same thing. When it finally came, none of us were prepared for that first fight, that Wire-Fu chase through that grand estate with our characters flying gracefully through the air. When they started flying around like that, the entire audience gasped in unison. Today, it takes a lot to impress this jaded critic, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will remain one of those movies that will forever be culturally epic for the West, right up there with ground-breakers The Matrix, The Lord Of The Rings, and Saving Private Ryan, and it’s not even Hollywood. If you haven’t seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’re doing yourself a cultural disservice, especially since so many films have followed in its footsteps, beginning with Hero and House of Flying Daggers. This style of Asian cinema shows no sign of letting up.

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