Wuxia has been a genre of Chinese martial arts literature and film for many years. For a long time, however, most American viewers weren’t even aware of its existence. In 2000, Ang Lee brought this style oversees with his film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Its emergence on the scene cause much hype and expectations that was not only met, but exceeded.
When Li Mu Bai’s (Chow Yun-Fat) sword, Green Destiny, is stolen by a thief and his old arch-nemesis, violence and treachery erupt in Peking. Along with an old friend, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), Mu Bai wages a personal war with Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei). They also meet a governor’s daughter, Jen (Zhang Ziyi), a young woman with a romantic past and sword skills that are entirely unexpected. How the paths, histories, and conflicts of these characters intersect will determine the fates of them all.
The real star of this film is the fantastic choreography of the fight scenes. Instead of these intense frenetic battles, we are treated to a violent dance of fluidity and grace. These excellent scenes can be attributed to master choreographer Woo-ping Yuen, who also choreographed the action sequences in The Matrix Trilogy. The action is nowhere near as intense as it is in those films, but you get the idea that this guy is a master at his craft.
This movie reminded me a lot of another Wuxia film that became popular in America, Hero. There are a lot of comparisons to be made, but never enough to say that Hero ripped off Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. What Hero succeeded in more was the visual design and color schemes. Crouching Tiger beats Hero when it comes to story, character development, and drama. In fact, this film had some of the best character development I have ever seen and I never felt like I was left in the dark about any aspect of a main character.
I really got a feeling for Chinese culture from this film. The surroundings, how they spoke to each other, class differences, and gender roles all play a big part to the narrative. In fact, without them this story wouldn’t have been as great as it was since the history and culture play such an important role in how people interact with each other and are treated.
One point where this movie kind of hurts itself is in the middle when Jen’s past is told through a flashback. I understand that it is a crucial part to the story, but it went on for a very long time and I felt like it could have been trimmed down. Once the main plot was back on track, I was so relieved. More relieved than I should have been. In fact, I shouldn’t have felt relief if the segment was paced right. Still, this is the only part of the movie where I was bored. Think of it as your bathroom break. A “what did I miss” should cover you.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an epic martial arts masterpiece that has to be seen to truly be appreciated. The story is so captivating and multilayered that it rivals the excellence of the action sequences. If someone asked me which I prefer: Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I would probably say Hero. Still, this can easily be ranked as one of the best films of all time, whether you’re new to the genre or a Wuxia fanatic.