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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (PG-13)
Sony Classics Pictures
Official Site

Director: Ang Lee

Producers: Bill Kong, Hsu Li Kong, Ang Lee

Writers: James Schamus, Wang Hui Ling, Tsai Kuo Jung

Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei Pei

Rating: out of 5

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON touts itself as a martial arts film, which in a sense, it is, but that is not all it is. This beautifully photographed picture, directed with an incredibly gentle and reserved touch by Ang Lee (SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, THE ICE STORM, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL), is actually a dreamy, hypnotic fairy tale. Accompanied by the soulful, romantic music of Tan Dun, and set against the backdrop of Qing Dynasty China, CROUCHING TIGER… tells the relatively simple tale of a sword called The Green Destiny. The sword is a magical, mystical weapon that supposedly contains the secrets of life itself. Possession of The Green Destiny intertwines the lives of Li Mu Bai (Chow), a famous martial arts master, his former love Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh), a beautiful, strong-willed young girl named Jen Yu (Zhang), and an enigmatic bandit known as Jade Fox (Cheng).

The action scenes—most of them surprisingly devoid of bloodletting—are balletically choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping (THE MATRIX). These scenes are unique in that they are not restricted, as are most martial arts films, to man versus man. There are confrontations between Yu and Jen, Jade Fox and a policewoman, and even one scuffle between Jen and a crowd of ruffians.

But it is actually what comes between the battles that makes the film so mesmerizing. Jen falls for a dashing desert outlaw named Lo (Chang). Their love scenes, which take place in what's supposed to be a cave in the Gobi Desert, and are photographed in a soft, earth-warmed light, are both sensuous and unabashedly romantic. There is a segment involving Jen and Li, which, in its execution, unfolds like the proverbial midsummer night's dream. Li and the girl have matured to such a point in their art that the laws of nature no longer apply to them. They participate in a battle—more of wits than of fists—in which the two attractive people, finding themselves in a forest of gently swaying willow trees, literally fly up and onto the delicate branches. While floating feather-like from tree to tree, the combatants exchange ideologies, eventually forming a bond that is a crucial turning point in the story. Sprinkled throughout the film are intense close-ups of the soulful, sensitive face of Zhang, probably one of the most beautiful and appealing young actresses to come along in the last 20 years.

Director Lee injects some dry and satiric humor into the film. When Jen first meets Lo (also known as Dark Cloud) he tells her, "I'm not big, I'm not tall, but I'm quick." To escape an arranged marriage, Jen disguises herself as a boy and takes refuge at a tavern, where, true to the martial arts genre, she is accosted by a group of muscular gangsters who challenge her to a fight. In a scene more comic than violent, the slight, birdlike girl manages to make Chinese corned beef hash out of her tormentors.

Viewers expecting a knock-down, drag-out Jackie Chan-type film might be disappointed. However, it is possible even the most ardent fan of the martial arts genre will be touched by this film, which unfolds like a Hans Christian Andersen story, and has the look of a child's most fondly-remembered dream.

— Mitch Persons

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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