When I first saw Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), I admired its visual and cinematic wizardry, but not much more. Then I had the chance of meeting the Chinese author Da Chen by way of interviewing him, and as interviews often do, we wandered off on tangents having nothing to do with the subject at hand. One of those tangents was this film, about which he noted that people who view it as an action film are only getting a small part of it, that its true beauty and greatness lay in its romance and legend. So I approached the film again with that in mind—and something far richer emerged.
This isn’t to say that the film isn’t an amazing martial-arts spectacle. It most certainly is that—and one of the few movies where the film is on a par with that aspect. This may also be the first martial-arts film where it was obvious that the action scenes were the musical numbers of modern film. (This became increasingly pronounced in the next few years in Jackie Chan’s movies.) But it’s easy to forget that this is only a part of the film. Watch the film more closely. This is not your average action picture, but a solid drama of some weight that’s actually on par with the action—and maybe a bit more.