Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee)

Ang Lee has surpassed his own previous work with the instantaneous classic, ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,’ a film that’s thoroughly delivered to the highest standard in practically every film making aspect. With a majestic storyline, excellently choreographed fight sequences and a brilliantly composed musical score, the film can be observed like motion picture art. Holding aspects of traditional Chinese legends, the film manages to blend history and fantasy in equal measure, thus creating something engrossing and brilliant upon reflection. The first Wuxia film to garner a following when released in the west, the film upholds its own acclaim with standards that will never decline over time – but instead heighten upon what was achieved when the film was first produced. It is to this effect that Ang Lee has crafted something untimely with regard to this film.

Based on the fourth novel within a Chinese pentalogy, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon follows accomplished Wudang swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) and his companion Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) as they hunt down their stolen mythical weapon, as well as seeking vengeance for the loss of their master upon a shadowy woman known only as Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei). With the blade stolen by Jade Fox’s own apprentice Jen (Zhang Ziyi), the two acclaimed warriors find themselves in the middle of a power play between two equally established fighters.
Through stealing the fabled Green Destiny, Jen shows herself to have surpassed the teachings of her master – while also receiving an invitation from a past lover, named Lo (Chang Chen). Confused to where her loyalties lie, and whether to follow through with her families arranged marriage, the young fighter leads the conflict with her own influence upon proceedings.

Being a Wuxia martial arts picture, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon draws many different artistic influences into the fight sequences that occur throughout. With each one bringing its own narrative arc, as well as flashy wirework that enhance the spectacle that’s already presented in the excellent choreography, Ang Lee manages to showcase brilliant set pieces that are expertly entertaining and deeply rewarding to watch. Placed alongside beautiful cinematography, and an amazing score, these sequences are further heightened in their exploration of majestic wonder – as well as human technical skill. Over the top in places, but never to the point that it destroys the illusion presented on screen, these moments stand out as the film’s best attribute – with each one paying off a reward that is surpassed with the next. It is through these moments that Lee can utilise stylised camera work and sequence design, thus crafting his production into a motion picture art piece that’s worthy of its own acclaim.

Handled with meticulous care, the four-principle cast utilise these sequences as a means to further their own character development as well as enhance upon audience expectation. The most Chinese aspect of this film, these wirework fight sequences will not entirely be without critique – but upon observing the simple and majestic manner in which the director frames and films these moments, audience members can revel in their inclusion.

Ang Lee has created something that’s both special and unique in what it brings. Held together by four of Chinese cinemas biggest names, the characters and their on screen exploits are conveyed and justified within the narrative. Featuring set piece after set piece that push the boundaries of what’s expected, the film presents both a traditional tale of romance and an epic outline of fantasy fiction. It is this blend of different genres, as well as the high standards utilised throughout that makes Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon instantly presentable as a cinematic classic.

Plot – 4
Acting – 4
Direction – 5
Special Effects – 5
Retrospect – 4
Overall – 4.5 out of 5