Review by Trylon volunteer Maria Gomez
Lush green backgrounds, descending waterfalls, and robust mountains provide the backdrop for Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film stars Chow-Yun Fat in his first martial arts film as Li Mu Bai and Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien. Long time respected friends, together they must take on the challenge of attempting to avenge past wrongs, guide Jen Yu, (Ziyi Zhang) onto the righteous path, and still have time to declare their long-held feelings of love for one another. This is not an easy task with an enemy lurking around every corner.
The film begins in 1778 China with Li Mu Bai returning from a long journey declaring to Yu Shu Lien that he has plans to retire from his warrior lifestyle but before he does, he wants to give his coveted Green Destiny sword to a dear friend as a gift. Jen Yu discovers the sword and although she exhibits all the skill that is demanded of a powerful warrior, as woman she feels that she is held down by societal constraints and decides to revolt to seek out her own destiny. In her own battle within herself, Jen Yu soon discovers that her desire to be a powerful warrior becomes her greatest enemy.
In a kind of Chinese fairytale, through detailed character development, an ethereal musical score, and a backdrop of breathtaking scenery in this stunning film, we watch a beautifully told story unfold. Director Ang Lee has long had a tendency to emphasize the inner strength in his female leads and Crouching Tiger is no exception. In this film, his strong female characters are superbly coupled in contrast with the subtle hints of the social norms in late 18th century China. Yu Shu Lien is a woman who highly regards respect for her elders and teachers, honor as a warrior, and the rules of being a warrior while also trying to be true to herself as a woman. She knows her place but there is something that keeps her from declaring her true feelings for Li Mu Bai. She remains calm, controlled, and clear-headed throughout the film until the moment when her faith is challenged and she finally reaches the point when she feels that her heart can take no more.
The intensity of the love stories that Lee presents are done so with such delicacy and tenderness, that you can’t help but fall in love with these stories and how they illustrate how beautifully flawed these characters are. There exists a sense of duty, honor, and pride in both stories that prevents these characters from truly allowing themselves to be given over to love. The inner conflict that each character undergoes fuels the story just as intently as the martial arts scenes do and there is no denying the impact it has on the audience. You feel for the characters even if you do not agree with their motivation. You even find yourself having sympathy for the film’s antagonist Jade Fox, a woman who has only ever tried to become a strong warrior, an able master, and worthy opponent but all the while having the most arrogant of intentions. She never really possesses respect for the knowledge of her elders or fellow warriors and in the end, this lack of respect seals her fate.
Many of the fight scenes are perfected with a score by Dun Tan, who was reported to have completed the project for the entire film in two weeks time. If you listen closely, you can hear the flutes actually weeping during the swift poetic dances between Zhang and Chow-Yun Fat. It is something quite extraordinary to behold as they deftly dance over giant bamboo stalks and through tall blades of grass, sternly glaring at one another as they fight. The additional fight scenes between Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang are encapsulated in movie history forever as some of the most well-choreographed in cinema history. Having no formal martial arts training, Ziyi Zhang used her dancing skills to make many of the fight scenes flow naturally.
Spoken completely in Mandarin dialogue with English subtitles, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is filled with beautiful landscapes, weightless dream-like fencing sequences, enchanting love stories, and immaculately choreographed combat scenes that will carry you off into a two-hour journey you will not soon forget. –Maria Gomez
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON screens Monday and Tuesday, July 13 and 14 at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.