Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi and Cheng Pei-Pei
Arguably the greatest martial arts film ever made, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a masterpiece on every level. A master swordsman, Li Mu Bai, has his famed sword stolen by a young warrior. Both Li Mu Bai and the warrior, Jiao Long, are swept up in an epic adventure of love, mortality and bad ass kung fu. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a sensation when it was released. To be nominated for best picture as a foreign film is one thing, but to be nominated for best picture as a kung fu movie? Amazing.
I honestly don’t know where to start with this one. There are other martial arts films that are more entertaining or maybe have better action scenes, but none of them come close in terms of sheer masterful film making. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a spectacle.
I suppose I’ll start with the story. This movie takes a bit of time to pick up steam as it spends about a half hour setting up all the different players and their very different motivations. There are a lot of moving parts in Crouching Tiger, but at no point does it feel over saturated or convoluted. I’m going to try not to use the term “masterpiece” too many times in one post, but the way Ang Lee was able to introduce all these characters and give each of them the proper amount of time to shine is… well it’s something only a master could achieve. The movie revolves around Zhang Ziyi’s character Jiao Long, but in reality there are four main characters and none of them feel out of place or unnecessary. Once this movie has all of its pieces laid out and it starts to pick up the pace it does something very few movies are able to do, it flows beautifully. It’s not a film that builds momentum and crashes head first into an explosive ending. Nor is it a film that drags. It moves fast when the insane action kicks in, it takes its time with the emotional scenes and never puts action before good story telling. The story isn’t wholly unique. In fact it’s quite a traditional kung fu story, but it has so many layers that you can’t help but notice that it’s so much more.
Let’s break away from all this talk of good storytelling and character development and focus on something a bit more fun… KUNG FU! Lord almighty the choreography of these fight scenes are on their own level. What Ang Lee did with the fight scenes is really cool. He uses a LOT of wire work, meaning the actors are often hoisted up by wires which allows the characters to do supernatural things such as walk on walls, leap over buildings or hover. It’s so grand and operatic which is not what you’d expect from action scenes, but some of the fights almost feel like something out of a musical. All that wire work is cool and all, but the real show is in the masters doing what they do best. Zhang Ziyi is a ferocious fighter in this film and she conveys so many emotions while fighting. Chow Yun Fat is downright amazing, but the real scene stealer for me is Michelle Yeoh. She is suuuuuuch a bad ass in every scene. It’s also very cool how each character, while fighting, reveals things about themselves. Li Mu Bai is calm while fighting, making deliberate and simple attacks which reveals his very Zen nature while Jiao Long is a ball of energy, literally spinning around destroying anyone she touches, which makes so much sense when you look at her extremely passionate and dedicated nature. She doesn’t let anything stand in her way on or off the battlefield.
The performances are on point as well. As I said, Michelle Yeoh delivers a flawless performance in my opinion. She plays the role of Yu Shu Lien so well. She’s an intense warrior, but always in control. Chow Yun Fat is also great as the calm master Li Mu Bai. But when talking about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon you have to look at Zhang Ziyi. Her performance put her on the map. She has the look of a beautiful and delicate young actress, but delivers a fierce and powerful performance in both the incredible fight scenes and the simpler ones as well. I mean she followed this up with an appearance in Rush Hour 2 and leading roles in both Hero (another martial arts masterpiece) and Memoirs of a Geisha.
As a side note I feel like girls and women need to see this. Three of the main characters, Jiao Long, Yu Shu Lien and Jade Fox all embody the phrase “strong female lead”. Kind of random to say, but it’s very much a movie about women.
Is this my favorite martial arts movie ever? No. That title belongs to The Raid 2. But is it the greatest martial arts movie ever? Absolutely. But it’s so much more than that. This movie made western audiences want more kung fu movies and I think it reignited the genre as a whole. Please, if you have never seen this movie you must. And if you only see one kung fu movie in your entire life, this has to be it. You’ll find just about everything in this. Action, romance, intrigue, fantasy, action, action and also action.
Highlight: The best scene of course is a fight scene and it’s revered as one of the best fight scenes of all time. When Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh go toe to toe it is absolutely jaw dropping.
Thanks for reading! Before next Friday I’ll be reviewing a movie that is in theaters now. Hint: It’s trippy af.