Now that his Hulk is smashing its way through theaters, I thought it was the perfect time to revisit director Ang Lee’s masterpiece, the gorgeous and thrilling action epic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film exploded onto the scene in late 2000, quickly becoming the highest grossing foreign language film of all time, surpassing 1998’s Life is Beautiful. It also broke records at the Academy Awards, receiving a total of ten nominations (a record) and winning four (another record) for best foreign language film, cinematography, original score and art direction; all of them much deserved.
The movie takes place in a fantasy world (much like that of The Matrix) where martial arts masters have the ability to float through the air, climb up walls and elegantly do battle on tree tops. We are introduced to Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), possessor of the legendary Green Destiny sword, who is seeking to avenge his master’s death at the hands of the notorious Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei). Just when he is about to give up and—hopefully—settle down with his unrequited love Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), the sword is stolen by a pupil of Jade Fox’s, who turns out to be Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of the Governor. Now Li Mu Bai sees a chance, not only to avenge his master’s death, but to gain a pupil of his own.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features some of the most incredible action sequences I have ever seen (it should be no surprise that stunt coordinator Wo Ping Yuen also worked on The Matrix). The gravity-defying action may seem a little odd at first to Western audiences (it did to me), but Lee does such a brilliant job of bringing us into his world that we soon just accept that these people can fly (I learn from the audio commentary that they do not fly, but rather they are weightless).
There are so many great action scenes to choose from, it is hard to know where to start. There is that balletic rooftop chase, the rewarding barroom brawl and the elegant battle atop the trees. All of these action sequences are brilliant, but the one that stands out most in my mind is the duel between Shu Lien and Jen. Shu Lien takes us through just about every weapon you can think of as Jen defies her holding the Green Destiny.
All of these action sequences are made even more incredible by the brilliant Oscar-winning music of composer Tan Dun that blasts from the cello of the great Yo-Yo Mah. The music serves a different purpose for each action scene. For example, it creates heart pounding excitement for the rooftop chase, while creating a sense of wonder and elegance for the treetop battle.
But Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is much more than just an action movie. At the heart of the action is a powerful love story; two, actually. The first is the quiet, respectful love shared by Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien and second is the rebellious passion of Jen and Lo (Chang Chen). The movie is also about sacrifice. Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien sacrifice their love in respect to their dead friend (her fiancé) and just what Jen sacrifices herself for at the film’s end is still up for debate.
The DVD comes complete with a BRAVO Making-of Special (which consists more praise than actual making-of), an interview with Michelle Yeoh (in which she mentions a possible prequel), and an audio commentary featuring Lee and screenwriter James Schamus.
Whether the extra features are to your liking or not, you still can’t go wrong with this brilliant film. It was the best film of 2000 and the first true masterpiece of the new millennium. I give it an A.