Went to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a second time in the opening weekend!
CAUTION: Spoilers ahead in this review!
The movie that stole the show at Cannes and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival (which last year chose “American Beauty” as it’s winner) has finally opened in limited release in the US. And what a masterpiece it is! I haven’t been as moved since I saw Von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves” and this movie does so much more.
Let’s take an overview of what Ang Lee brought together for this film:
Not only two of the top leading actors in cinema (Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh), but also one of the leading male heart throbs of Chinese cinema today (Chang Chen), and the 1960’s female martial arts star Cheng Pei-Pei, and clearly the brightest female rising star (Zhang).
Let’s not forget music by Tan Dun, cello solos by none other than Yo-Yo Ma, and theme song performed by Hong Kong pop superstar Coco Lee.
Then mix in the incredible beauty of the seldom-appreciated Chinese wilderness be it the Gobi Desert or the cloud covered mountains near Wudan.
Then mix in martial arts director/choreographer extraordinaire Yuen Wo Ping and clearly the most innovative mix of martial arts and computer graphics editing seen yet.
Any other director could have been overwhelmed by the scope or the vision of this film and Ang Lee himself explained that this film was a dream of his that he knew could not have happened without his previous work on movies like “Sense and Sensibility”, “The Wedding Banquet”, “The Ice Storm”, and his earlier work.
I believe that Ang Lee has really redefined himself as a director, as well as the genre and focus of martial arts film, as well as the status of Chinese cinema. Most importantly, Lee has redefined Asian cinema around the women of the film- notably in a film where martial arts plays a leading role. I hope to see more and better movies centered around Asian women (either fighting or not) and not specifically the men in action films. Lee’s vision, to balance the beauty with the action, the females over the males, tragic endings and epic film-making, is completely inspired and a positive amalgamation of East and West.
Critics keep on making references between action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping and his work on “The Matrix.” While those 10 minutes of “bullettime” were certainly memorable and important to the movie, Wo Ping has been directing martial arts movies since 1978 and has worked with ALL of the stars of Hong Kong cinema including Jackie Chan (see his brilliant performance in “Drunken Master”), Jet Li (“Last Hero in China”, “Tai Chi Master” and “Fist of Legend”), Michelle Yeoh (in “Tai Chi Master”), Sammo Hung (“The Magnificent Butcher” and “Eastern Condors”) and new superstar Donnie Yen (in “Iron Monkeys.”) Much credit is due to John Woo and his brand of HK action cinema, but Wo Ping deserves as much if not more due to the quality and quantity of the movies he has directed or choreographed. I hope that “Crouching…” will bring Wo Ping the credit in the West that he deserves.
A few professional critics were sorry to see the unfulfilled love between Li and Shu Lien. Due to their class and their Giang Hu lifestyle, Shu Lien and Li could not have had a fulfilled love. In the West we come to expect that from our leading characters but I believe that Ang Lee’s portrayal was much more accurate. For Shu Lien and Li, their choices to become warriors meant that they couldn’t have been lovers. That’s why Li’s decision to end his Wudan lifestyle was so important; it signalled the fact that he wanted to fulfill his love for Shu Lien. In fact his love for her was so strong he couldn’t attain the highest levels at Wudan because his feelings for her got in the way. In many ways, the portrayal of the love between Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai was more powerful than the “kidnapping” fantasy between Lo and Jen due to the fact that they loved each other privately within the bounds of their duties as warriors and their status.
Because I went to see the movie twice in it’s opening weekend in New York City (packed houses both nights) I overheard many people gushing enthusiastically over the film afterwards. Many people were questioning the suicide of Jen at the end of the film. I believe that Jen knew that to honor Shu Lien and the promise Jen made to Shu Lien, she had to kill herself because she set in motion (with the first theft of the sword) the events which led to Li Mu Bai’s untimely death. It was her duty to close the circle of death that surrounded the Green Destiny.
If you love this film as I do, you owe it to yourself to see it in the theaters more than once. When you see it the second time through, you can appreciate so much more of the cinematography and other nuances because you don’t have to concentrate as much on the subtitles.
Finally, unless you read Chinese, the title has to be explained. Jen’s name has the word Dragon in it as she hid her abilities to the world. Lo is the Tiger, as he is young and rash and wild.
Check out the public relations site for CT,HD.