Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Review

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Director: Ang Lee


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the explosively popular film that solidified Chinese cinema as a global alternative to Hollywood. The title for the film is borrowed from an old Chinese proverb. The cast includes: the Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat, Malaysian actress Michelle Yoeh (who also appeared in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies), Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi (who has appeared in a number of blockbuster movies including Memoirs of a Geisha). The film won a huge number of awards around the world, and it was nominated for Best Picture. It was directed by Ang Lee, a Taiwanese director best known for his martial arts films.

I thoroughly enjoyed the action sequences in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, however the plot is odd at times and somewhat disorienting. Overall the movie is visually stunning and the delivery is well-done.

The story is based on the Chinese novel of the same name by Wang Dulu (the novel was part of a series called the “Crane-Iron Series”). It takes place in an imagined time and place during the 18th century Qing dynasty in China. At the beginning, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat), a retiring master swordsman, asks Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to deliver his celebrated sword “Green Destiny” to his benefactor Sir Te. When she delivers the sword Lien meets Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) who is soon to be married against her wishes. In the night, a masked thief steals the “Green Destiny.” The masked assailant is revealed to be Jen Yu, and her governess is revealed to be an infamously evil martial arts teacher named the Jade Fox (played by Cheng Pai-Pai). They narrowly escape a conflict with Li Mu Bai who arrives when he learns that his sword has been stolen.

A large portion of the movie is dedicated to an extensive flashback into the life of Jen Yu -she was once captured by a group of desert bandits and fell in love with one of them. When we return to the present-moment, we learn the bandit has arrived in the hopes of running away with Jen Yu again but she refuses. Then, on her wedding night she flees into the night and fights numerous people while en route to Wudang Mountain (‘Wudang’ -the same name as the type of martial arts they emply). Jen Yu battles Yu Shu Lien until she is beaten, but when Shu Lien shows mercy, Jen Yu wounds her arm anyway. Next, she battles Li Mu Bai until he easily defeats her and asks her to join him and study the true art, but she refuses. Jen Yu is then taken by the Jade Fox who drugs her, and the Jade Fox battles Li Mu Bai until she is killed in the process, but only after she leaves a poison dart in his neck. Li Mu Bai tragically dies in the arms of Yu Shu Lien and confesses his love for her (they were reticent to fall in love with one another because her husband was previously killed). The movie ends with Jen Yu and her desert-lover reunited.

This film was released in Mandarin and dubbed for English-speaking audiences. Notably, it was specifically created to appeal to a Western audience, hence why many of the actors have spotty or poor Mandarin accents, while a greater focus was placed on translating the subtitles appropriately into English. Shooting locations varied in China: from the Gobi desert to the Anhui, Hebei, Jiangsu, and Xinjiang provinces in China. In 2016, an entirely forgettable sequel was released with English language and Mandarin subtitles.

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