Ang Lee’s entry into the martial arts film is a balance of action and a love story for the ages, all revolved around the hunt for a legendary sword.
Li Mu Bai, a legendary swordsman in ancient China, has returned to Beijing. He has decided to give up his sword, the Green Destiny, and live a life of peace. He is desperately in love with Yu Shu Lien, a fellow sword expert. Housing the Green Destiny in the House of Sir Te, the sword attracts the attention of Jen Yu, the daughter of a Manchurian official. That night, a masked assailant steals the sword and despite Shu Lien’s attempts, the masked thief escapes with the sword.
The masked thief is Jen Yu, who is not only an official’s daughter, but she is also the martial protege of a villainess known as Jade Fox. Jade Fox wants the sword for herself to take over the martial world. Jen, however, begins to feel conflicted. It is not only after receiving advice from Li Mu Bai, but things come ahead for her when Dark Cloud, a respected desert bandit and ex-lover of Jen’s, returns to win her heart back when she is forced to marry another official’s son.
When an art house director tackles a martial arts film, it is sometimes met with trepidation. Wong Kar-Wai’s first attempt, Ashes of Time, wasn’t exactly an exciting film the first time around. Thankfully, the Redux version and his 2013 film The Grandmaster gave Wong redemption. Ang Lee’s first foray into the martial arts film turned out to be a delightful mix of wuxia action combined with a story about love and fate, based on the fourth novel of Wang Dulu’s Crane-Iron Pentalogy.
Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, two of the top Asian stars at the time, show great chemistry as the legendary swordsman Li Mu Bai and the woman he loves, Yu Shu Lien. Chow and Yeoh, who speak Mandarin in the film despite their Hong Kong and Malaysian accents, mesh really well as does newcomer Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen as the other major love story of the film, the conflicted soul Jen Yu and her lover, a kind-hearted desert bandit known as Dark Cloud. Zhang, who would later appear in hit Hollywood films such as Rush Hour 2 and Memoirs of a Geisha, makes an impressive film debut as a conflicted young woman who ultimately must choose between her love for a commoner and her loyalty as a protege of the villainess, played by comeback wuxia queen Cheng Pei-Pei.
Yuen Woo-Ping, the legendary martial arts film director who gained fame in Hollywood as the cast trainer and action director of The Matrix, choreographed the fights and for a wuxia pian, they are actually quite exciting for its style. Yes, there is plenty of wirework with an exciting introductory fight scene showing Michelle Yeoh taking on and chasing Zhang Ziyi. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop and up walls before showcasing some nice hand-to-hand combat and a nicely executed kick exchange. There are some nice sword and weapons fights in the film sporadically combined with its dramatic storyline.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a wonderful film that balances out its intricate storyline with some pretty exciting action courtesy of Yuen Woo-Ping. The film truly deserves its Oscar wins and nods.
WFG RATING: A
Columbia Pictures Asia presents an Edko Films International production in association with Good Machine International and Zoom Hunt International. Director: Ang Lee. Producer: Bill Kong. Writers: Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus, and Tsai Kuo Jung; based on the Crane-Iron Pentalogy by Wang Dulu. Cinematography: Peter Pau. Editing: Tim Squyres.
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-Pei, Lung Sihung, Gao Xian.