Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Jen, ready to strike!

Jen, ready to strike!

Going along with our Oscar winner trend, we look back at the Asian classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the movie that put (at least to American audiences) Ang Lee on the map.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙, Wo Hu Cang Long), follows Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) as they try to recover Li Mu Bai’s stolen sword, the Green Destiny, which he intended to give away to give up his life as a martial artist. Little do they know that at the center of it all is Yu Jen (Zhang Ziyi), a bored aristocratic girl with a romantic past.

Most people have at least heard of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because of, if nothing else, for its stylish action sequences, choreographed by the likes of Yuen Wo Ping, who was fresh off the set of The Matrix (1999). While Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is top-to-bottom a wuxia (martial arts) film, its primary concern very much is its human element.

Deep down, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a love story. Jen is set up to marry a man in order to advance her father’s career, very much to her chagrin, especially when she knows the man she loves is out there somewhere. Similarly, Mu Bai and Shu Lien carefully dodged the subject their feelings for each other.

The movie is nominally set during the time when China was ruled by the Qing Dynasty. However, the setting, besides providing set pieces for much of the movie’s eye candy in its Oscar-winning cinematography, ultimately proved to be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s least important feature. If Jen’s parents were to have any hope of marrying her, they would’ve had her very pretty feet bound and thus, at the very least, somewhat hamper her ability to perform the stunts she did.

Nonetheless, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a very pretty movie. Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh are both incredibly beautiful women, and the cinematography (again, Oscar-winning) is a real sight to behold. While I haven’t seen very many good martial arts movies (*cough* American Commando *cough*), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had some of the most well-choreographed fight scenes I have ever seen. While Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was primarily a love story, the choreography made it every bit as capable as an action movie as well.

Unfortunately, while the choreography has withstood the test of time, the special effects have not. Some of the scenes where the characters are flying through trees look a little hokey; at one instance, it looked embarrassingly clear that Chow Yun-Fat was superimposed on a background in a manner I would have expected from a movie like Return of the Jedi, which is 17 years older. Many of the stunts did kind of bother the part of me that is a recent graduate in mechanical engineering in how many laws of Newtonian physics (namely gravity) were broken. In addition, there were times when characters were talking during fight scenes, and you can actually fairly clearly see their lips not moving, thus showing pretty clearly the lines were dubbed in.

With that in mind, however, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a modern Asian gem. For some reason, I felt like the best time to check it out was after I landed my A in Introduction to China. However, I think it’s a movie anyone can go into even without any knowledge of China whatsoever.

Score: 4/4

NOTE: The issues I took with the special effects could also partly be the result of the DVD I borrowed really showing its age. I saw both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty on DVD, and yet neither underwhelmed me (particularly as far as sound) as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you know of a more recent DVD issue of the movie being demonstratively better, I’d suggest getting that. If not, then you may have to drop some money for a Blu-Ray issue.