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
On the DVD: As might be expected this superb anamorphic widescreen version of the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio presents Peter Pau's spellbinding cinematography in its full glory; the same goes for the Dolby 5.1 audio track that showcases Tan Dun's haunting score. Annoyingly, however, the default language option is the dubbed English soundtrack, which means you have to select the original Mandarin version before playing. The extra features are good but not exceptional, with an obligatory "making-of" documentary and commentary from Ang Lee and James Schamus being the best options: the director and producer/cowriter chat amiably and in some detail about their martial arts version of Sense and Sensibility. But it's the breathtaking delight of the seeing the movie in such quality that really counts, and this disc does not disappoint. --Mark Walker
DVD Columbia, TriStar, Region 2 PAL 2000 119 mins