Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was an important achievement in Asian cinema. Released in 2000, first in Hong Kong and Taiwan, then later in the Unites States, it became an unexpected international success, garnering critical acclaim and over 40 awards.
It’s one of my favorite movies and a major influence on my work-in-progress, an eastern fantasy novel.
Based on the writing of wuxia author Wang Dulu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon tells the story of Li Mu Bai (played by Chow Yun-Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), warriors and friends who have yet to act upon their obvious feelings for each other.
The film opens with Mu Bai retiring from a warrior’s life. He asks Shu Lien to present his sword–the fabled Green Destiny–to a mutual friend as a gift. When a thief steals the sword from its new owner, their investigation plunges them into conflict with the governor’s daughter, Jen (Zhang Ziyi), whose brash youth and desire to live her own life complicates matters as they try to protect her family’s reputation.
The trouble deepens when Mu Bai discovers that Jen is protected by the Jade Fox (Chang Pei-pei). Long ago, the Jade Fox murdered his master and stole the secret of his sect’s fighting-style, passing it on to the governor’s daughter in the years since.
Even though I knew little about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the time of its release, I was excited to see it in the theater. I had become a big wuxia fan by then and seen a number of films on DVD, but had yet to experience one on the big screen.
It did not disappoint.
The film weaves excellent storytelling, interesting characters, and beautiful sets into a tapestry enriched by a soundtrack that perfectly enhances its visual splendor and exhilarating action sequences.
Veteran martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping did excellent work in creating the film’s fight scenes. In one memorable example, Shu Lien and Jen settle a disagreement in true wuxia style by demonstrating mad kung fu skills.
My only complaints about the film are relatively minor. The wire work tends to make the characters appear to have little weight, although I appreciate that the actors performed most of their own stunts and that computers were only used to clean up the wires.
I also thought the extended flashback in the middle went on for too long. Although well-written and well-acted, because flashbacks occur in the past, they can work against the feeling that the story is moving forward.
Complaints aside, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a wonderful piece of film-making, one I proudly draw inspiration from in my own storytelling.
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