Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director: Ang Lee
Action director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Stars: Chow-Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen
This review no doubt has been colored a bit by the hype (and backlash) this movie has received. And after witnessing some of last year's "best" movies, which ranged from okay action-adventure (Gladiator) to mindless, manipulative mush (Erin Brockovich), I can clearly see why many US reviewers call this the best movie of the year. I agree with them to an extent; Crouching Tiger has everything the best films have -- a credible story, strong script, good sets/cinematography and powerful performances. But is this, as some have called it, "one of the best films of all time?" I would say not. It's certainly a great movie, but it's lacking that certain spark that sets great films apart from classic ones. While watching this movie, I got a sense of déjà vu, as in I've seen most of what's contained in here before.
Perhaps I've watched too many HK movies lately (is that a good thing or bad thing?) or was too critical going into this movie, but I found myself picking it apart by the parts, rather than the whole. I admit that this may not be the best way to view (and review) a movie, but the structure of Crouching Tiger lent itself to this kind of criticism. At any rate, the film combines elements from many successful wuxia movies -- the desert setting, flashback use and theme of unreciprocated love of Ashes of Time, the high-flying fights of Swordsman II, and so on. This of itself is not really a bad thing -- when was the last time you saw a wholly original movie? -- but, again, as I've watched a spate of these films of late, I found myself saying "well, that was done better in another movie...".
However, the movie gels together well, mostly through the performances of Michelle Yeoh (who didn't even know basic Mandarin before this film) and especially newcomer Zhang Ziyi, who is Crouching Tiger's real star. I wish the film had concentrated more on their psuedo-sister relationship, rather than using a good portion of the movie to Zhang and Chang's relationship. Even though Chang gets a good amount of screen time, his character is underwritten for his prominence in the story, and he seems more of a MacGuffin (plot device) than anything else. In fact, upon looking at this movie, it seems the opposite of many others in the genre. The male characters seem more superfluous, while it is the women who dominate. Again, this is not a bad thing, but when love and relationships figure so highly into a story, it seems kind of silly to only develop one side of a particular relationship.
Action-wise, Crouching Tiger does a good job. There isn't as much as some other movies, but what's in there is done well. Yuen Woo-Ping's touch is present in the sequences (people climbing walls, jumping across rooftops, etc.), but it's subdued enough so people who don't like wire-fu won't be too off-put by it. My only real complaint with the action is that the computer-fu stuff (people flying about) looks pretty fake in parts, though it's not as bad as some recent HK movies like A Man Called Hero.
In a nutshell, Crouching Tiger doesn't quite live up to the hype, but is still a damn fine movie and well worth watching. Despite its' problems, it does deliver a good story, performances and action, and provides solid entertainment for both HK film novices and veterans alike. One great thing has come from this movie already -- it has gotten some people who previously thought kung fu/martial arts films were "stupid" or "silly" to take the genre seriously.
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