Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon – movie review

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Every culture has its Wild West. The good guys, the bad guys, gunslingers, peacemakers, those somewhere in the middle, vast unspoiled expanses of nature and love stories that will never be. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is China’s Wild West movie, but in a way that’s never been done here or there.  This puts it on my list of 10 best all-time movies.

First and most important this is an Ang Lee movie.  Ang Lee is a master of his trade, a master telling a story, a perfectionist in every detail which results in some of the most beautifully captured and well put together movies that have ever been made.  As noted in the opening paragraph this is about the old west.  The west in this case being China’s west.  The martial artists replace the gunfighters and a love story is a love story wherever it may be.

The story puts together the exuberance of a young couple destined to never be, with a more mature couple who are also never to be.  The temptation of youth just learning to flex their muscles is contrasted against the maturity of people who have been there before and learned that skill with a weapon is only a fleeting victory.   Interspersed with this tale of real life are some of the most beautifully choreographed martial arts scenes ever done.

Ang Lee sets the vision and Peter Pau, cinematographer, makes sure the vision makes it to the big screen.  Whether shooting on sets or in the vast expanses of the desert every image is a visual masterpiece.  Along with some of the fantasy like images are equally fantasy filled marital arts scenes, some with a hint of sensuousness.

The story simply starts with youthful spoiled, and we’ll later learn mentored by the dark side, Jen (Zhang Ziyi) stealing the Green Destiny sword on the eve of her arranged wedding (sounds like some of the same elements as Kill Bill?).  The Green Destiny is the sword made of legends, which Li Mu-bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is trying to retire from his possession.  Li Mu-bai is the legendary master fighter who has survived it all and matured to the stage in his life where he’s learned not everything is won at the tip of a sword.  This sets the stage where Jen, wanting to prove she’s become the best despite her young age, attempts to take on Li and make her reputation.  Li’s martial arts partner, Yu Shu-lien (Michelle Yeoh), understands Jen’s youthful mistakes and tries to keep her out of trouble while teaching Jen some subtle life lessons.  While Yu tries to befriend Jen, Jen’s evil mentor of 10 years, Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei), is plotting to make trouble, including killing Li, who was the pupil of Jade Foxes former master and lover.  While wanting to retire, Li feels honor bound to fulfill one remaining duty, kill Jade Fox for killing Li’s former master.  Li also works with Yu to try to keep young Jen out of trouble and eventually wants Jen to become his martial arts pupil.   Well the movie is easier to follow than this paragraph, but suffice it to say there’s enough human frailties in the movie plot to make even Shakespeare happy.  There are a few more subplots in the movie which all fit nicely together as the story unfolds to its ending.

Once again, great story, great acting, great direction, great cinematography, great movie score make a great movie all the time.  This is worth the first viewing as well as some second and third viewings, and maybe more.

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