Who says superheros are the only ones allowed to fly?
Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), a retired warrior, pays a visit to a nobleman friend to give him a sword that can apparently cut through anything, called “Green Destiny.” However, the sword is stolen, and Mu Bai joins forces with old friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to get it back. Even though Mu Bai believes the thief is Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei), an assassin who killed his master not too long ago, little does Mu Bai, or Yu Shu know that it’s someone completely different. Meanwhile, there’s the story of Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), a a bored and annoyed teenager who is set to get married to a nobleman she has clearly no interest in whatsoever. But what excites Jen the most are these warrior women who have control over their mind, body and life. And even though her life is about to go through a drastic change sometime soon, she still can’t seem to get past her love for a killer known as Dark Cloud (Chang Chen).
It’s nice to know that there’s directors out there like Ang Lee who are true, absolute visionaries who don’t care what it is that they do, they just want to do it. What I’m trying to say by this is that Lee, for as long as he’s been directing, hasn’t really stuck with any one genre and made that “his thing”; instead, he’s bounced around from one to another, taking on all different lives, trying on all these different skins, and for the most part, making it all work out just fine. Sure, there’s the occasional misstep (*ahem Taking Woodstock), but when you take into consideration all of the other great movies, as well as all the other genres Lee’s played around in, it doesn’t really matter.
All that really matters is that Ang Lee still exists and is still making movies.
And while everybody knows and believes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be his unabashed “masterpiece”, there’s still something about it that I have yet to fallen in love with. Granted, this being the second time I’ve seen it (once before when I was way young and only cared about the characters kicking each other’s butts), there wasn’t much of an element of surprise to guide me along, but for movies such as these, ones that are considered “absolute perfection”, I feel that it’s almost necessary to check them out for a second time. Sometimes, you don’t know if you’ve missed something neat, or interesting, or cool about the movie that you may have missed the first time around, like a subtle hint, or clue, or piece of story-telling that gets better and better each time you think about it, which is why it’s always a blast to re-watch movies.
But for Crouching Tiger, that’s not really the case. Everything that you see, is basically what you get. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as what we get is pretty solid in its own right, but really, there’s not all that much depth to Crouching Tiger other than honor, loyalty and respect. Sure, there’s plenty of love stuff to go around, too, which was a nice touch, but really, it gets over-powered by all the scenes concerning characters talking about their loyal ways and rules they’ve been set out to follow and how they’ll continue to do so. Once or twice is fine, but once these scenes get to be seen/hear at least seven or eight times, it gets to be a bit tiring.
Then again, that’s why the fight sequences of Crouching Tiger have always been the source of adoration.
In some cases, sure, you can tell when there’s wire-work, but for the most part, you get used to seeing these characters fly around, fight one another, get hit pretty hard, bounce back from it, and continue to battle on, without hardly a scratch to be found. It’s actually like a video-game whenever a fight happens here, but they’re filled with so much fun, energy and inspiration, that it almost doesn’t matter how much it looks like the PG-version of Mortal Kombat. Lee does something smart with these action-sequences though, in that he has them constantly build up from one another, all until the point of where it seems like there’s nowhere else to go, or anything else to do. That is true, all until it isn’t, and we realize that Lee is literally throwing everything at us, kitchen sink included and it’s a whole lot of fun to watch.
Which isn’t to say that the story itself doesn’t work – it just obviously pales in comparison when you look at it side-by-side with the action.
The only subplot that I really found myself genuinely interested in was Jen Yu’s. Her story of a young, lustful romance that takes place in the desert isn’t just surprising, but funny and heartfelt, sometimes at the same time. In a way, it’s almost as if Lee decided that he wanted to make another movie halfway through, but realized that he already had all of this good material for Crouching Tiger, so rather than chucking it all to the side, he stuck with it, placed the lover subplot somewhere in between and decided to let the film-reel continue to roll. It feels slightly random, but it’s still a welcome surprise because it brings plenty of emotion to a story that, quite frankly, needed it.
And this is also to say that, as Jen Yu, Zhang Ziyi is all the right kinds of smart and sassy, but at the same time, still feels like a kid at the same time. In a way, she sort of steals the movie from the rest of her cast, although that isn’t to say that she gets away with it Scott free and without any competition in her way. Chow Yun-Fat is wise and rather intimidating as Master Li Mu Bai, someone you know can kick a mean ass, but just waiting to see him actually do that is half of the fun. Then, there’s Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien, who is also pretty bad-ass in her own right and the fact that she gets to get down and dirty with most of the battles, makes her all the more of an impressive character who is willing to step up to the plate and throw down the gloves, especially when she’s called on to do so.
Consensus: Perhaps not Lee’s best film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still, by the same token, a fun, exciting, and lovely tribute to the kinds of over-the-top, crazy kung-fu movies that Lee himself clearly has a soft spot in his heart for.
8 / 10