Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
is so many things: an historical epic on a grand scale, an Asian martial-arts flick with both great effects and fantastic fighting (choreographed by The Matrix's guru Yuen Wo Ping), a story of magic, revenge and power played with a posse of star-crossed lovers thrown in for good measure. Set during the Qing dynasty (the late 19th century), the film follows the fortunes of righteous warriors Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien (Asian superstars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, respectively) whose love for one another has lain too long unspoken. When Li Mu Bai's legendary sword Green Destiny is stolen by wilful aristocrat's daughter Jen (exquisite newcomer Zhang Ziyi), who has been trained in the way of the gangster by Li Mu Bai's arch-rival Jade Fox, the warriors must fight to recover the mystical blade. The plot takes us all across China, from dens of iniquity and sumptuous palaces to the stark plains of the Western desert. Characters chase each other up walls and across roof and treetops to breathtaking effect, and Tan Dun's haunting, Oscar-winning East-West inflected score. Directed by Taiwanese-born Ang Lee and co-written by his longtime collaborator American James Schamus, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
joins the ranks of the team's slate of high-quality, genre-spanning literary adaptations. Although it superficially seems like a return to Ang's Asian roots, there's a clear throughline connecting this with their earlier, Western films given the thematic focus on propriety and family honour (Sense and Sensibility), repressed emotions (The Ice Storm) and divided loyalties in a time of war (Ride with the Devil). Nonetheless, a film this good needs no prior acquaintance with the director's oeuvre; it stands on its own. The only people who might be dismissive of it are jaded chop-socky fans who will probably feel bored with all the romance. Everyone else will love it. --Leslie Felperin
Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) has been charged with bringing the Green Destiny, a legendary antique sword, to its new owner in the capital. But the sword is stolen by a mysterious black-clad thief whose martial arts expertise outshines even that of Shu Lien herself. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) soon arrives to help search for the sword, and his suspicions are aroused when he realises that his old enemy Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei) is nearby. Ang Lee's epic tale of martial arts chivalry broke box office records for foreign language film distribution, received critical acclaim the world over, and won four Oscars (Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Music, and Best Foreign Language Film).