Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

This is the best martial arts film and also the first film of that genre that could be taken seriously. By the way, who cares if the fight scenes were so unrealistic; the only things that matter is that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has a well-written script. Also, add to that the hidden depth that can be interpreted in many ways. This film is a feminist - in its own rights - film pitting female protagonists against old Chinese values (each one of them deal with it with their way).

Li Mu-Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) decides to give away his Green Destiny sword in order to live a peaceful life. However, when the sword is stolen and that Jade Fox, the woman who killed Mu-Bai's master, is alive, he decides to recover it for a last mission. To that matter, he calls for the help of Shu-Lien, his "sister in arms".

Adapted from a novel by Wang Du-Lu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's script would have been fit to be a TV series. Nevertheless, it's surprising how the trio of scriptwriters manage to condense the three stories (Li Mu-Bai's search for a disciple, his relation with Shu-Lien, the desire of Tia-Long to become a warrior, etc.) into one beautiful story about heroes all in research of something.

However, while the story combines some sub-plots that may not be original (hypocrisy, avenging a dead master, etc.) it's the themes that give to this film its hidden depth. In fact, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the few martial arts films that avoids clichés as much as possible. For instance, Li's search for vengeance by killing Jade Fox is not used as a pretext to mindlessly pile up fight scenes, but rather as a study of Li's second way to find inner peace. Needless to remind you that this desire to avenge his master's death arrives as Tia-Long's arrival shatters, so to speak, Mu-Bai's and Shu-Lien's world.

Secondly, although Chow Yun-Fat (The Killer) is far to be the best choice to play in a martial arts film, he sure can make his presence being felt. In other words, his ability to play a character with a hidden depth makes up for his passable skills in martial arts. While this movie made me discover Michelle Yeoh's (Tomorrow Never Dies) thespian talent, it also brought to my attention, back in 2000, such a talented actress in the likes of Zhang Ziyi (The Road Home).

Finally, if you only watch martial arts movies for the fights (with your brain turned off), you better skip this one. This is rather the sort of film that suits people who, back in 2000, were waiting for a film that shows to people that martial arts films can be taken seriously. Obviously, there's so much things to say about this film, but I'll limit myself to what I wrote.

Rating: 4.5/5

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Taiwan/Hong Kong/USA/China (2000)
Length: 120 minutes
Genre: Drama
Screenplay: James Schamus, Wang Hui-Ling and Tsai Kuo-Jung
Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Pei-Pei and Chang Chen

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