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I have to admit, I was blown away by the amazing cinematography of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (hereby referred to as CTHD for brevity’s sake). The movie is breathtaking to look at and the acting is first-rate by the leads, although the secondary characters are spotty and employs what I call “Asian over-acting” (the belief of many Asian actors that more is more and less is, well, they don’t know what less is). Thank God the major leads do understand the finer points of acting, and shows their craft off beautifully.
Despite all that, the movie does have some problems — in particular the laborious middle part, where we are forced to relive Zhang Ziyi’s Jen as she falls in love with a rebel warrior in the desert. There is also the matter of dialogue that sounds (because they are) clich’, as if ripped directly from a cheap chop-socky film. The sequence where multiple characters converge to fight and declare their intentions by mentioning the deaths of their masters or wives or loved ones and the avenging of said person comes to mind. I expected more from Ang Lee and writer James Schamus, and was disappointed by the large number of “kung fu movie cliché” that appeared here.
The film eventually picks up again and we’re brought into the quest for a sword called the Green Destiny. A host of characters interact and battle for the legendary weapon, and each and every battle is fabulously directed and acted. It’s very obvious every single one of the actors do much of their own stunts, and all have undertaken tremendous physical and martial arts training for their respective role. I do not believe a single person in this movie has the extensive martial arts training ala Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Bravo to them for such extensive effort. A personal duel between Yeoh and Zhang, in particular, showcases the savagery of martial arts as well as the power of people (who in this case happens to be women) who knows how to wield such weapons.
“CTHD” is really two films in one: the love story between Jen and her desert warrior and that of Mu Bai and Yu Shu, Michelle Yeoh’s character, and the plot that revolves around the theft of Mu Bai’s sword, the Green Destiny. Throw in Ziyi’s master, the Fox, who is some kind of thief and killer and wanted fugitive. Though why she’s so hunted or despised is beyond me, since she didn’t seem to be such a bad person. So she killed a few people, and did some stealing, but all in all, she didn’t come across as so uncompassionate — just desperate, being a woman living in a time and place where women really had little to no rights, or the ability to choose their own destiny.
First let’s talk about the acting. Acting muscles are being flexed all across the screen. This is probably due to Ang Lee’s presence. The man is what actors like to call an actor’s director. People just act better when he’s directing them. Even as they’re kicking ass and refusing to take names, Jen and Yu Shu still radiates tremendous vulnerability, a tribute to the two women’s acting talents. Chow Yun Fat, as Mu Bai, has perhaps the most subdued performance of his life while wielding a sword and looking invincible. Impossible, but true. John Woo made Fat a movie star, but Ang Lee has made him an actor.
“CTHD” has opened a lot of doors for Chinese films and Chinese actors in the international and American markets. It will be considered a breakthrough film in the years to come, and it deserves all of its unanimous accolades. It is at once beautiful, lyrical, and powerful, even if it is sometimes hindered by the filmmakers’ over reliance on clich’d kung fu movie plots.
Ang Lee (director) / Ang Lee, James Schamus (screenplay)
CAST: Yun-Fat Chow …. Master Li Mu Bai
Michelle Yeoh …. Yu Shu Lien
Ziyi Zhang …. Jen