From February 2001
Film Review

Also reviewed: Almost Famous
• other January releases

Film Review Hotline
5 Stars; Excellent

Great fights! Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in action

Great fights! Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in action

STARS: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh,
Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei Pei

James Schamus,
Wang Hui Ling and Tsai Kuo Jung
DISTRIBUTOR and Image copyright: Columbia TriStar
OPENING DATE (UK): January 5

Martial Art

A dead cert for this year’s foreign language Oscar, as well as a strong contender to be the first non-European film also nominated for Best Picture, Crouching Tiger is a jaw-dropping martial arts masterpiece that engages, entertains and enthrals on every conceivable level.

Adapted from the fourth volume of an epic literary tale set in the early 19th Century Qing dynasty, the story centres around the poignant personal journeys of two women: fighter Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh), whose unswerving loyalty to her murdered husband stops her for revealing her feelings for legendary warrior Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat), and enigmatic young aristocrat Jen (Ziyi), awaiting a forced marriage, but in love with her former kidnapper bandit Lo (Chen) – a tale recounted in a flashback sequence that could give The English Patient a few lessons in simmering passion.

That is just skimming the surface, though. There’s also the mysterious intentions of a masked ninja thief, who steals Li Mu Bai’s mythical ancient sword ‘Green Destiny’ and the dark spectre of Jade Fox (not a porn actress as the name suggests, but a fierce and powerful villainess), whose evil activities have impacted on the lives of every character. As Yu investigates the sword’s theft, emotional and physical conflicts come to the fore.

Interviewed about this unexpected choice of genre (expect sci-fi next time), Ang Lee responded “Some may have thought it strange that I could just drop what I normally do and make something like a B-movie. And as I was doing it, there was no escape, I had to bring in drama, I had to bring in women, I had to bring beauty and whatever I feel added quality to it. It became an Ang Lee movie.”

And that’s no lie. This spellbinding Chinese saga of forbidden love, deception, honour, tradition and sacrifice is as richly characterized, ravishingly photographed and eloquently told as Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm and Ride with the Devil. It just happens to be punctuated by a handful of majestic, gravity-defying fight sequences choreographed by The Matrix’s Yuen Wo Ping, that, by comparison, make the celebrated cyber-kung fu of Keanu, Carrie-Anne & company look dull and listless.

Lee’s poetic compositions (free from the machine-gun editing of the action genre), the gasp-inducing grace and poise of the combatants, and the sheer variety of moods and locations (from the playful one-on-one tranquillity of a slender tree branch, to a destructive mêlée in a tavern) are astonishing.

While Crouching Tiger’s evocative sense of time and place, believable relationships and subtly-shaded performances are compelling in their own right, the masterful mix of romance, drama, fantasy and martial arts elements almost create a whole new genre: action art-house. Subtitle-phobics leave your prejudices at the door, because with 360 days to go, we may already have the film of the year.

Jason Caro

Read our massive reviews section in this month's Film Review
Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

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Also reviewed online this month:
4 Stars; Recommended
ALMOST FAMOUS • released January 26


5 Stars; Excellent
Quills • Jan 19
Requiem for a Dream • Jan 19

4 Stars; Recommended
Audition • Jan 26
Cast Away • Jan 12

4 Stars; Recommended
Jan 19 • Kiss Me Kate
Jan 19 • The Lost Lover
Jan 12 • Rage
Jan 12 • Traffic
Dec 28 • Unbreakable

(see Cover Feature)