M o v i e R e v i e w
Winner of four Oscars and two Golden Globe awards.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Directed by Ang Lee
Review by Arlene Seid and Tim Van Dyke
Let's make one thing clear right from the beginning: this is not a Hollywood action movie. It's more than just the scenery, even though the movie was completely shot in such diverse regions of China as Beijing, Xinjing, and the Gobi Desert. It's not just the fact that the movie is completely in an ancient dialect of Mandarin and English speakers are required to read subtitles. It's something else besides the style of fighting, which is based on the Wuxia filmmaking style and involves more superhuman feats, such as flying, than is usually seen in Hollywood action films (although The Matrix has changed some of that, which is not surprising given the fact that Yuen Wo Ping did the action choreography for both films). The big difference between this movie and Hollywood action films lies in the characters.
The basic story is simple: a sword is stolen, recovered, stolen again, and again recovered. But it is the characters that we meet along the way that makes the movie interesting.
Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is a monk-warrior who decides to give up fighting and decides to give his old and valuable sword, the Green Destiny, to his patron. He entrusts its delivery to Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), the head of a security service and an old friend. She delivers it, but the very next night it is stolen by a masked thief. Because the thief has a lot of natural fighting skill, Yu Shu is unable to stop her or even determine who it is. But she has suspicions about the daughter of a general just returned from western China, Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), who is clearly unhappy about her upcoming arranged marriage and has shown great interest in the life of a fighter.
In one of the funniest scenes of the movie, Yu Shu makes it clear, without letting anyone else know, that she knows that Jen took the sword and shames her into returning it. Meanwhile, Li Mu has arrived searching for Jade Fox (Cheng Pei Pei) in order to kill her to avenge his former master whom she had killed. Although Jade Fox had trained Jen in fighting, Li Mu and Yu Shu are able to convince Jen to send her away. But because she is unhappy with her marriage and because, as we learn through an extensive flashbacks, she is in love with the bandit Lo (Chang Chin), she again steals the sword and runs away to live the life of a fighter. Li Mu and Yu Shu follow her to regain the sword, which sets up the final dramatic conflict. As for the ending, we don't want to give too much away, but remember this is not a Hollywood movie.
Although the cinematography is breathtaking (particularly the scene in the bamboo forest), the fight scenes intense (made more so by the fact that the actors actually made physical contact while shooting them), and the music (including cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma) beautiful, it is the development of the characters that really makes the movie stand out. We really get to understand what makes the characters tick. Each has a good side to their character; each has flaws.
LiMu and Yu Shu are both bound by what they feel is their duty. Although it is clear from the beginning that they love each other and have for some time, they are unable to express it to one another. They both feel that to do so would be dishonorable because Yu Shu had been engaged many years before to Li Mu's brother, who had been killed. Both of them, and in particular Li Mu, seem to be most comfortable in allowing their sense of social duty to tell them how to behave and feel uncomfortable in following their own heart. As is clear by the end of the movie, they both regret the time they have wasted.
Jen, on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. She has no interest in being disciplined and wishes to lead the free life of a wandering fighter. She refuses to become Li Mu's student. She does not wish to be bound in any way, even breaking her own word. Much of this behavior seems to be a response to her tightly controlled childhood. It is clear, however, that this is also not the answer; although she has a lot of natural fighting talent, she is hampered by the fact that she has no discipline.
These insights into the characters of Li Mu,Yu Shu, and Jen add additional depth to the movie; they make the conflicts between them more than just a fight between people, but more a metaphor for the conflict between duty and desire that each one of us faces. The film points out the necessity of seeking a balance between duty and desire in one's life.
Even the most villainous person in the movie, Jade Fox, is not simply a two dimensional character. Although she has very little dialogue, the dialogue she does have really has a sting: she is given some of the most memorable lines in the movie. Her comments make us realize that she is not evil simply for the sake of being bad, but that she too has her motivation for her actions, she too is responding to her experiences, and she too is trying to make sense of her world.
The emphasis on character development in this movie makes it a great movie, not just a great action movie, which it certainly is, but a truly great movie. Ang Lee certainly deserves the Golden Globe award he got for directing it.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) CD Soundtrack
Available from amazon.com
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