Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) was such a phenomenon at the box office that it became the first foreign language film to make over $100 million in the U.S. — a rare instance where box office receipts and artistic merit do go hand in hand. The film has so many different elements that there’s enough in it to appeal to almost everyone. Even if you’re not big on martial arts movies, there’s romance (actually there are two), and if neither of those do it for you, there’s an element of fantasy. If none of that is your dish of tea, then there’s the sheer visual splendor of the film — and it’s hard to imagine anyone being totally resistant to that aspect. It really is one of the most beautiful movies imaginable.
The secret ingredient — apart from the inherent appeal of stars Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang — is less the wirework fight choreography of Woo-ping Yuen (The Matrix) than it is the presence of Ang Lee in the director’s chair. Lee crafted a film that not only deftly balances its various elements (too many action films just lie there and die there between fights), but one in which the occasional injections of comedy (often a painful occurrence in martial arts pictures) are executed with a light and precise touch. The story — adapted from a novel (one of a series of five) — has the simplicity of a legend, one that allows for a good deal of ornate detail and an often joyous sense of pulp fiction (minus any hint of camp). If by chance you’re put off by having seen clips of people scrambling through tree tops and flying through the air (and, yes, it sometimes does feel like a stage production of Peter Pan), don’t let that keep you from this rich film — there’s a lot more to it than that.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke