Turn Back the Clock

Martial Arts/Action/Romance

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon features Chow Yun-Fat as Li Mu-bai, a Wudan disciple, warrior and accomplished swordsman who has spent years hunting the woman who murdered his master.  Jade Fox (Pei-Pei Chang) has alluded Li Mu-baiís grasp for quite some time and, feeling he has let his life slip a way from him, Li Mu-bai leaves Wudan and gives his sword, Green Destiny, to an old friend Sir Te (Sihung Lung).  It is his hope that he will be able to start a new life with Yu Chu-lien (Michelle Yeoh), a female warrior who works as a security agent for hire.  She has loved Li Mu-bai for many years, but the two have prevented their friendship from becoming more out of respect for her deceased fiancť, former best friend of Li Mu-bai.

            She agrees to bring Green Destiny to Sir Te for Li Mu-bai, hoping against hope that afterward, the two can finally be together.  Upon her arrival at Sir Teís compound, she learns that Sir Te is entertaining guests - Governor Yu (Fa Zeng Li) and his family.  She feels a special affinity toward Governor Yuís daughter, Jen (Zhang Ziyi), who laments never having experienced the mysteries of the world before being thrust into a loveless marriage.

            When the Green Destiny is stolen by a mysterious black-clad individual with practiced Wudan skills, Yu Chu-lien suspects that Jen may be the thief.  However, local officials have received word that the thief could actually be Jade Fox.  Li Mu-bai arrives to investigate and the two are completely unprepared for what they discover.  Will they ever be able to recover the Green Destiny sword and defeat Jade Fox?  Will Li Mu-bai and Yu Chu-lien ever find happiness together?  And just who is that mysterious thief with the amazing Wudan skills?

            When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon first hit the theaters, a friend of mine who enjoys martial arts films as much as I do suggested we check it out.  Funny enough, he was unaware that this film contained subtitles and no voice-overs and he was annoyed when the first subtitles appeared on the screen.  I just laughed and prepared to enjoy the movie.  And enjoy it I did to an extent.  I was annoyed with all of the flying around (the Wudan fighting style which seems to make the practitioner extremely light in the foot), but the love story was excellent and the fighting scenes well-choreographed.

            When I saw the film for a second time, I had rented it on VHS and I was less concerned with the visuals and more concerned with the subtitles and therefore, the storyline.  I became even more engrossed in the story behind the action - the intrigue, the love story, the mystery.

            I recently watched the film in DVD format and I believe this third time was the charm that will solidify Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as one of the greatest martial arts films I have ever watched.  The first time I saw the film, I concentrated on the visuals.  The second time, I concentrated on the dialogue.  But this time around, I could take in a blend of both and realize the true beauty that is this film.

            Of course, romance is a main genre in this film, as numerous characters are forced to endure unrequited love.  Li Mu-bai and Yu Chu-lien have spent years denying what they mean to one another.  Jen is thrust into a loveless marriage while the man she really loves is unattainable thanks to her social status.  Jade Fox is bitter that Li Mu-baiís master found her worthy enough to be his lover, but not his student, but she is more so at the betrayal from her disciple whom she loved as a mother.

            Action is another part of the genre - duh, itís a martial arts film and as such, action is aplenty.  These are some of the most elaborate choreographed fighting scenes I have ever watched.  The fight scenes were beautifully choreographed in such a way as to look like aggressive dance sequences.  There was a beauty to each fight that I canít adequately put into words.  Itís something that has to be watched in order to realize the true beauty, complexity and fluidity of movement involved.  My favorite scenes take place between the Green Dynasty thief and Yu Chu-lien.  More like a dance with a sting than full on combat, the beauty and fluidity of each of these scenes are impossible to miss.

            There is also a profound sense of loss in this film that is expressed in varying styles similar to the theme of unrequited love.  There is the loss of love, which seems to prevail throughout the movie, but there is also the loss of trust, innocence, self and morality, just to name a few.

            The story is incredible, but the acting is something else to be admired.  Thus far, I had mostly seen Chow Yun-Fat in movies that stress action, but leave something to be desired in the dramatic storyline aspect.  That being said, I had no idea that Chow Yun-Fat was capable of performing in such a dramatic role.  Zhang Ziyi was relatively new on the scene at the time of this filmís production, but she instantly caught my attention in her role as a young woman torn between three worlds - the social status befitting a Governorís daughter, the dark underworld of a forbidden love and the even darker world of the forbidden teacher.  I knew this actress would be going places long before I saw her in Memoirs of a Geisha, where she would act alongside her Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon co-star Michelle Yeoh. 

            Now, Michelle Yeohís acting prowess was no surprise to me.  Iíve followed her career for years and her performance in this film was just more of the same - simply perfect.  Yeoh has a dignified stature and believable acting style.  I donít think there is a single role she could ever look out of place in.  It is unfortunate that Michelle Yeoh does not get the attention as a dramatic film actress that she deserves. 

            The soundtrack of the film, composed by Tan Dun, features Yo-Yo Ma performing an incredibly moving musical score.  The haunting sound of the cello, as performed by Yo-Yo Ma, reveals the feelings concealed in the hearts of our main characters.  The lyrics of the song, A Love Before Time, beautifully performed by Coco Lee, perfectly describes the love between Yu Chu-lien and Li Mu-bai.

            The DVD version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features the usual extras such as commentary by director Ang Lee and producer James Schamus and filmographies.  However, there are some special features that peaked my interest.  BRAVO Making-Of Special: Unleashing the Dragon is an incredibly informative documentary about the making of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, featuring commentary by Ang Lee, James Schamus, Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.  Conversations with Michelle Yeoh is a featurette in which Michelle Yeoh explains her decision to be a part of this film, its impact on her career, some behind the scenes information and more.  Both of these features offer the viewer greater insight into the characters themselves and the behind the scenes stuff that went into making this film.  Also of note is the Photo Montage, which combines movie stills, production shots and candid photos of the cast and crew of the film set to the beautiful musical score created by Tan Dun.

            With Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee has transcended the traditional martial arts film genre by adding an emotionally dramatic storyline to go along with the action already associated with the genre.  As such, this film is perfect for date night as it appeals to fans of the action film genre as well as fans of romantic films.  It is my fervent wish that Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat can persuade Ang Lee to create the prequel of this film as discussed in the featurette Conversations with Michelle Yeoh.  I would love to see what transpired between the characters before the tale of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  I simply canít get enough of these characters and will happily watch the film over and over again.


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