Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Synopsis: Two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious fugitive are led to an impetuous, physically skilled, adolescent nobleman’s daughter, who is at a crossroads in her life.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Both of us

Why we chose it:

Leah: I’ve seen this move featured in many “must-see” lists and was intrigued by some of the snippets I saw- particularly its gorgeous cinematography and female leads.

Brent: I’d heard so much about “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” when it was nominated for best picture that it stuck with me on my “to watch” list for years, despite never actually getting around to it. It was time.

Brent’s Review:

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a beautiful film from start to finish. The story is simple in and of itself: Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) attempt to uncover the identity of the thief of the green sword of destiny. The plot quickly involves the story of Jen (Ziyi Zhang) and Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei), the former of whom is an adolescent woman yearning for adventure before the date of her arranged marriage and the latter of whom is the sworn enemy of Master Li Mu Bai.

Revealing more of the plot would spoil too much, so I shall turn to a discussion on the film’s use of story telling devices. First, the film’s score is subtle and beautiful — and it is often used in a way that subverted the expectations I had for this film. There are multiple chase sequences that feature quiet, reflective music rather than the loud, boisterous music I would have expected for a film that is known for its martial arts.

Second, the cinematography is disarmingly beautiful. Every scene in the desert is absolutely beautiful to look at. Full disclosure: I caught myself drifting from the plot during an extended sequence in the desert because I was examining the beauty of the mountains in the background.

Finally, I must comment at length about the use of wire-fighting and martial arts in this film. Ang Lee, the film’s director, pitched the film as “Sense and Sensibility with martial arts.” As I noted in my response to the film “Hero”, the fighting in this film plays less like an actual fight and more like an elaborate ballet with the most experienced dancers. The biggest difference between the martial arts “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Hero” is the level of quality: “Crouching Tiger” is incomparably more sophisticated, eloquent, and effective than “Hero” in its use of fighting.

This is to say nothing of the superb acting and gorgeous costume and set design. Each element of this film’s production builds on each other to create a stunning viewing experience that arrests the audience in a layered delivery of the themes in the film, namely the theme of hiding one’s strength from others (implied in the idiom referenced in the title).

This experience can only be tied together by a masterful director at the height of his craft, Ang Lee. And what a varied career path Lee has taken. In his celebrated film career, he has directed the films “Sense and Sensibility,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Life of Pi,” and 2003’s “Hulk.” That’s an eclectic filmography, to be sure. I find that Lee’s command of his craft is more impressive given that he is not merely a genre director. He is a story teller and crafting beautiful films is his strength.

When making this film, Ang Lee was not a hidden dragon. I’m happy to say I finally had the pleasure of seeing this film, even if seventeen years too late.

Leah’s Review:

After my somewhat underwhelming viewing experience of “Hero”, I was a bit apprehensive about watching another “stylish martial arts” movie. However, I found “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” much easier to follow and was equally impressed with its cinematography and captivating plot. My enjoyment of this film may have also had something to do with its director.

Ang Lee is truly a masterful director and his repertoire of films, though shorter than some big-name directors, is diverse. His notable work includes “Life of Pi”, “Brokeback Mountain” (which we will be watching later this year), and one of my personal favorites, “Sense and Sensibility”. Lee’s films are beautiful to behold but also say so much without solely relying on dialogue. The emotional depth Lee is able to convey is what sets his films apart. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is no different. Although its genre may be that of an action/fantasy film, we are made to feel the longing and desires of the characters (such as what is felt between lovers Yu Shu Lien and Li Mu). Without revealing too much, I’ll just way that I was nearly moved to tears towards the end of the film.

Primarily, “Crouching Tiger” is both an action and a fantasy film. And, as such, features some superb choreographed martial arts scenes that are so seamless, it’s more like watching a dance than a fight. Similar to “Hero”, it uses some of the same fantastical elements of characters flying through the air as they spar. Other elements like magical swords and great warriors add to this spectacular fantasy story. I’ve since learned that this style of filmmaking is called Wu Xia which evolved out of popular Chinese fiction. This helped give a little more context to movies such as this film and “Hero”. But “Crouching Tiger” used this style in a way that I found to be less distracting and more complimentary to the story.

One of my favorite aspects of the film is the use of strong female characters. Both Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu practically overshadow the men of the story, showing off their wits as well as their strength as cunning and gifted warriors in a context that does not encourage these characteristics and behaviors of women. In a genre of movie that typically favors men, it was refreshing to see a martial arts action film that chose to feature women in such powerful roles.

I really don’t have much else to say about this film except that I would highly recommend it. From its stunning cinematography, to its well-written characters, a flawless cast, memorable action scenes, and a downright beautiful story- it’s one of my favorite films we’ve watched so far this year.

Up next: We’re going to seize the day and watch Robin Williams in “Dead Poets’ Society.”

Peace out, kids.


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