Film Commentary [1-8-00]
Martial Arts Epic - - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
(Wu hu zang long)
Genre: Martial arts/fantasy/comedy/drama
Grade = A+
Cantonese with english subtitles
After patiently (and impatiently) waiting over six months to see what has come to be one of the most talked about and praised films of the year, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon finally opened in Houston on December 22 (of course only after being released on December 8th in New York and LA, another blatant example of Hollywood distribution bi-coastal bigotry. Its not like Houston is the fourth largest market in the US or anything). Unfortunately, I was in Oklahoma City at the time were the film was NOT showing. I finally got the chance to view the film on Christmas day in Houston. For being the first show of the day, the theater was packed! I was not the first to hear of this film and apparently everyone else took off from their Christmas dinner to see it with me. Standing in line for 20 minutes and at the snack bar for 15 for my movie popcorn fix, the wait was well worth it.
Set in early 19th century China, the warrior Mi Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat - Hard Boiled, The Replacement Killers, Anna and the King) has decided to give up fighting as well as his ancient and magical sword Green Destiny and give it to his patron in Beijing even though he still has not hunted down and killed Jade Fox, a bandit who betrayed and murdered his master. His female associate Yu Hsui Lien (Michelle Yeoh - Tomorrow Never Dies) is also a warrior and agrees to take the sword to Beijing along with a caravan she and her company is guarding. Arriving she presents the sword to the patron while at the same time meeting the seemingly innocent Jen (Zheng Ziyi), the daughter of an important governor and aristocrat who is scheduled to be married in a few days. Late that night, a thief steals the sword, and there is a chase with a long draw out fight with Yu. The thief gets away and Jade Fox is suspected. And so the fun begins.
This quite simply is the best film of the year and one of the best I have seen in a long time. It possesses what very few films in any language ever can - movie magic. The ability to transport its patron into another world and let you leave this mundane environment behind for a couple of hours. The story had all the elements of classic mythology that make an epic tale. Heros and heroines, villains, a social class crossed romance, exotic scenery, a magic sword and action scenes that are the most original and exciting that have ever been filmed.
It is the action scenes that make this film special. The characters jump and leap about with the ability to defy gravity with an almost ballet-like grace. The first fight scene sets that standard for the rest of the film as their moves literally take your breath away when you see them the first time. They soar to the rooftops, run up the sides of building, skip across water and walk about the tops of trees as if they weighed nothing with each action scene building on the next. These action scenes are almost poetic as a choreographed dance. It is also at times exceptionally funny.
Written and directed by Taiwan director Ang Lee most well known for his films Eat, Drink, Man, Woman; Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm (which bored me to death), Lee builds on his previous ability to write and direct both comedy and tragedy with his first foray into the action genre. Besides action, this film offers both slapstick and verbal humor, a reproduction of 19th century Beijing with fantastic scenery of rugged mountains, temples and vast deserts as well as two separate but very different love stories. As a rule I detest romances, but the performances of the characters made me not mind such stuff this time around.
Strengthening the film are the outstanding performances of the main characters. Michelle Yeoh’s is particularly strong, but the film revolves around the character of Jen who Zheng Ziyi performs with great comic timing and martial arts skill. The film is outstandingly scored by Yo Yo Ma and should garner a host of Academy Award nominations. It should (but probably won’t) be nominated for best picture as well as cinematography, costume design and direction.
In 1939, Hollywood released the John Ford film Stagecoach. Previous to this time, movies about the American west were the genre of Hopalong Cassidy, singing cowboys and were basically considered lower class and juvenile fare unsuitable for serious film consideration. Stagecoach, an intensedrama with well developed characters, changed all that. As a result Westerns came to be considered a legitimate and artistic film genre. This film may very well take the martial arts film to such consideration. If this becomes fact, this film will not only be considered great entertainment of artistic merit, but historically significant as well.
Opening in Oklahoma February 9.
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