Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Reviews

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Viet Phuong N ½ September 26, 2014
This is not a wuxia film. More than ten years ago when I watched this film for the first time, I hated it so much for not being a wuxia film, for not being awesome and Hongkong-esquely epic like the hype built up around it at that time. But now, after watching almost all of Ang Lee's anthology, I fully accept it for not being a wuxia film, and I feel ashamed of myself for not opening my heart (at that time) to embrace the film, to feel it, and to enjoy it. This film is a superb piece of art - cinematography-wise, where China was revealed as a heaven-on-Earth with limitless deserts, heart-stopping mountains, animated citadels, and of course peaceful bamboo forests. As sensitive and tactful as any of his previous films, Ang Lee gave his characters a treatment so good even the "bad guys" could earn some understanding and (amazingly enough) affection from the audience. Despite its traditional look, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is an extremely modern film - a film that is all about the desire to freedom, the desire to live as you want to live, and not as the society and the traditional inner tell you how to live. You can never find taboos like inter-racial love, master-student affection, desire over traditional code-of-conduct, personal values over conventional values in Hong Kong films, yet, they exist all over the film, and how beautifully they were depicted under the skillful direction of Ang Lee! The soundtrack and choreography (by Yuen Woo Ping - the most traditional wuxia master, of all people!) are equally impressive but it is the anti-climax yet utterly heart-breaking ending of this film that serves as the catalyst for the audience's emotions, that makes them to think back about everything that passed over their eyes (in the film), about their own feelings, about their own desires that they once had like the lively girl always has. The only, and very minor, uncomfortable thing about the film might be its odd tempo, which killed a little bit of my emotions and affection for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
Matthew L May 20, 2014
~14 years after this movie is released I finally get around to watching it.
While the premise is fairly straightforward (legendary sword gets swiped and needs to be hunted down), it's a graceful blend of drama, romance, and extremely impressive martial arts sequences with gravity defying stunts.
Although the aerial tricks can perhaps come across as silly, I can't really fault it for that - the movie does have a bit of fantasy vibe to it, so you just kind of go with the supernatural take and enjoy it for what it is.

Chow Yun-Fat fits his role well as a wise, experienced master of martial arts. He has a certain effortless presence that helps convey who he is.
The elegant Michelle Yeoh brings a lot to the movie as well - showcasing some good dramatic acting alongside some incredible fighting prowess. The dialog between these two concerning their unspoken love works well, bringing some emotion to the characters and the movie.

The conflicted character played by Zhang Ziyi is central to the main plot and also central to much of the movie's drama and issues brought up about love, life, regret, and redemption. She also has to do a whole lot of fighting on top of that. Her character is somewhat ambiguous in terms of how we are supposed to feel about her. A rather complex role that I think is done well.

Chen Chang fits the rugged yet charming bandit well in a lengthy flashback that serves as backstory. This might seem like a bit of a pace killer for people who were expecting non-stop action, but I've always felt that fleshing out your main characters is usually never a bad thing and really makes every other part of the movie more enjoyable.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon excels at drawing you in with great visuals, audio, character drama, and fast paced, fluid fight scenes that are among the best I've ever seen. I think when a movie inspires awe like that, transports you somewhere and you just want to take it all in - it really shows what movies are most capable of.
Alex G July 9, 2008
One of the great action movies. Exhilerating and involving from start to finish.
johncardenas1988 johncardenas1988 June 7, 2014
Welcome to Shitty Wok
CC B. CC B. ½ September 10, 2014
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a smart mix of drama and martial arts with well developed characters, exciting martial arts battles and beautiful scenery.
Guilherme N ½ September 6, 2014
Beautiful, entertaining and interesting.
VGuru R ½ September 2, 2014
This film was an astounding achievement made by Ang Lee in terms of making a martial arts movie. I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, not only for the action sequences and beautiful cinematography, but also for the great performances. This film goes beyond what it means to be a warrior - honorable, wise, strong, etc. It goes deeper into the mind and persona life of a fighter, and how though it seems they are free spirits, their famous exploits prohibits them from finding success in other aspects of life, such as love. I love the drama, the fights (hats off to Yuen Woo Ping for choreographing them), the production design. My only negative was a small story element that I thought didn't make sense, but it's a really minor negative. Overall, amazing film, one of the best foreign films I've seen in a while as well - 9.7/10
Memo P ½ June 16, 2007
Overrated. If you really like this kind of films you'll find on this, a nice envelope with a blank background.
Yanemy Yanemy August 5, 2014
Classic soap-opera, drawn out fight sequences and a theme-driven story mixed into a generally pleasant cocktail.
Drexler K August 4, 2014
Best martial arts movie I have ever seen. It has some great fight scenes and a wonderful plot that moved me from the beginning.
Stephon T August 4, 2014
this movie is a joke it fucken sucked. Can't believe i spent 1.99 on this shit. me and my wife were disappointed in this movie from the start. there is fucken flying are you serious FUCKEN FLYING!
TheFeldster TheFeldster ½ July 23, 2014
Probably the most iconic of all the Wuxia films (at least from a Western perspective), "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was a career-making milestone for Oscar winning director Ang Lee.

The story focuses on an eclectic cast of martial art experts and warriors, who come together over the theft of an iconic sword. A Wudang swordsman, who originally owned the sword, sends it as a gift to his friend, to be delivered by a lady friend who may or may not be something more. Meanwhile, a young aristocrat who is a surprisingly talented martial artist steals the sword, as part of her bid for a more exciting and independent lifestyle than the one arranged by her parents. Intertwining plotlines then ensue, which I won't go into here.

A cast including Chow Yun-fat, Zhang Ziyi and former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh all star in this film, and all do a very good job at portraying the drama and the romance that Lee sets up within this film. But overall, the major strength of this movie comes from the choreography.

Choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping, who also worked with the Wachowskis on "The Matrix" the year before, this film has a very distinctive visual style, with the combatants often gliding stylistically across the set. It's far from the realistic, gritty style that modern day action fans have come to expect, but it certainly is nice to watch.

If you appreciate the wuxia style, then this film is a must see. 9/10.
Alex R July 18, 2014
Not as fun as Hero or House of Flying Daggers, but still an excellent film
Daniel M ½ June 8, 2007
One of the traps with reviewing cinema outside of the Hollywood mainstream is assuming that difference equates to higher quality. We're so used to the American approach to storytelling and characterisation, with Hollywood-style films being made all over the world, that the second someone comes along with a slightly different approach, we assume that it must have some greater value. This over-valuing can lead to greater misconceptions about the cultures from which such films emanate, leading us to regard as paradigm-shifting art what said culture regards as derivative, third-rate trash.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came at a time when American audiences were starting to gain a new-found familiarity with 'Asian' or 'Eastern' cinema. Together with Spirited Away, it was a watershed for bringing Chinese, Japanese and Korean films to greater attention in the West. While you might have cause for debating exactly how ground-breaking it is within its given genre of wuxia, it is still a great film with a well-told story which finds director Ang Lee at the peak of his powers.

I spoke about Lee's directorial style in my review of Life of Pi, for which he eventually won the Oscar for Best Director. With the possible exception of Hulk, Lee has always managed to strike an enviable balance between visual poetry and detailed characterisation. While the narratives in his films aren't always the most complex or profound, he has a knack of continually pulling us back toward the underlying story, where many lesser directors would get lost in the pyrotechnics.

Whatever else is true about it, Crouching Tiger (as it will be known hereafter) is very pretty. Peter Pau, who won an Oscar for his cinematography, fills the screen with natural shades and then lights them in an almost ethereal manner. The way that the greens of the bamboo and Li Mu Bai's sword seem to shimmer beautifully reflects the dream-like quality of Lee's storytelling and the epic, melodramatic feel that he was going for. This is all the more extraordinary given that Pau previously lensed the horror-comedy Bride of Chucky and Warriors of Virtue, a tedious affair noted for its incoherent, blurry action scenes.

Much of the appeal of martial arts films lies in their physicality and choreography. Many people who went to see Enter the Dragon weren't particularly interested in its story - they were simply taken in by how Bruce Lee could move in the fight scenes. Crouching Tiger benefits in this regard by the presence of Yuen Woo-Ping, the same man who choreographed The Matrix trilogy and later lent his talents to Kill Bill.

While the Wachowskis were off experimenting with 'bullet-time', developing the work of Lee's contemporary John Woo, Crouching Tiger takes a more balletic approach. It treats its martial arts like an elaborate dance, in which the violence perpetrated by sword, dart or hand is as much an end in itself as a means towards a more elaborate series of steps. The film almost draws your attention to the fact that many of the moves being performed are physically impossible, prolonging the length of jumps and glides that could only be achieved by highly-skilled wire work.

Of course, it's possible to appreciate the beauty of characters performing impossible stunts as an aesthetic exercise, such as the running and flying through the bamboo. But Lee manages to keep our disbelief suspended by investing so much time in the characters before the really outstanding fight scenes come along. Even if the story is painted in broad, epic strokes, it's strong enough and feels genuine enough that the dramatic scenes matter, whereas in a weaker film they would merely book-end the set-pieces.

A good example of this comes in a conversation between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi about halfway through the film. During a conversation about the latter's character getting married, Yeoh deliberately allows a small bowl or dish to fall from the table. Ziyi's character grabs it instantly in mid-air, preventing it from smashing on the floor and demonstrating her great reflexes, unintentionally and perhaps unconsciously. This small but impressive action confirms in Yeoh's mind her suspicions about the identity of the Green Destiny's thief - suspicions which we had entertained for some time, and which turn out to be correct.

This example also illuminates the storytelling technique employed by Crouching Tiger. It is melodramatic, insofar as the characters operate within clearly-drawn archetypes and their character development is reasonably clear from the outset. We can probably guess that the love between Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien is destined to be unrequited, just as the thief's identity can be quickly ascertained by the very deliberate close-up on the eyes. While the plot isn't exactly spelled out for the audience, it is possible to spot most of its major points before they occur.

Many films at this point would fall apart because the characters aren't interesting or appealing enough to rise above their generic limitations - films like The Snows of Kilimanjaro, A Place in the Sun, or to a lesser extent Gojira. But Crouching Tiger uses its restrictions more proactively, using our foreknowledge to justify its emotional arcs all the more. Lee repeatedly uses very tight close-ups to force us to read into the characters' faces, and Zhang Ziyi in particular is very adept at making even the slightest smile or tiniest flicker of her eyes seem deeply meaningful.

Crouching Tiger explores a number of interesting themes which bring a greater depth to these kinds of character interactions. One of its big themes is hidden talent, with talent either hiding in plain sight (Jen Yu) or taking every precaution to stay in the shadows (Jade Fox). The title of the film is a literal translation of the original Chinese, which properly translated refers to "a place full of talented and extraordinary people hidden from view."

Within this is a comment on the manner in which women are underestimated or misjudged. Wuxia films incorporate many elements of chivalry, which traditionally depicts the male protagonists as heroes defending the honour of the women. Jen Yu and Yu Shu Lien both sword-fight, but the former consciously rebels against the accepted order, talking back to seasoned warriors like they were naughty schoolboys. The sequence where she lays waste to dozens of fighters in the inn (along with most of the inn itself) is much more empowering than anything that Tarantino has managed when he has dabbled in martial arts.

The film also examines the dominance of teachers over their students, even when the student shows tremendous ability. Most of the characters have some kind of grudge or burden relating to their masters. Jade Fox was sexually assaulted by her master, which makes her bitter, twisted and hateful of all men. Jen Yu doesn't want to be anybody's servant, rebelling against Jade Fox and longing for the more equal and respectful relationship she enjoyed with Lo in the desert. Li Mu Bai's solemn demeanour comes from his vow to avenge his master's death, with his search for justice ultimately leading to his own untimely end.

There is a recurring motif later in the film relating to poison. Poison is both the method used by Jade Fox to defeat Li Mu Bai and a symbol of her corrupting influence over the young Jen Yu. Li Mu Bai's desire for inner peace and clarity is in stark contrast to the chaotic, scrambled mind of Jade Fox; her actions are impulsive, desperate and cowardly, while his are controlled, effective and noble. It's a film about how passion can lead to destruction, whether by the hand of one's enemies or one's own choices. Jen Yu ends the film by diving off the waterfall, hoping to rejoin Lo; her passions have only brought her death and isolation from her friends, and she can no longer deal with either.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a great film which successfully conveys the conventions of wuxia to a Western audience. While those more familiar with the genre may not find it quite so remarkable, it remains a gripping romantic epic with memorable characters, interesting themes and visual beauty to spare. It's also a great introduction to cinema outside the English language or the Hollywood sphere of influence, and essential viewing for anyone interested in martial arts.
Daniel Mumby Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ May 27, 2014
One of the traps with reviewing cinema outside of the Hollywood mainstream is assuming that difference equates to higher quality. We're so used to the American approach to storytelling and characterisation, with Hollywood-style films being made all over the world, that the second someone comes along with a slightly different approach, we assume that it must have some greater value. This over-valuing can lead to greater misconceptions about the cultures from which such films emanate, leading us to regard as paradigm-shifting art what said culture regards as derivative, third-rate trash.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came at a time when American audiences were starting to gain a new-found familiarity with 'Asian' or 'Eastern' cinema. Together with Spirited Away, it was a watershed for bringing Chinese, Japanese and Korean films to greater attention in the West. While you might have cause for debating exactly how ground-breaking it is within its given genre of wuxia, it is still a great film with a well-told story which finds director Ang Lee at the peak of his powers.

I spoke about Lee's directorial style in my review of Life of Pi, for which he eventually won the Oscar for Best Director. With the possible exception of Hulk, Lee has always managed to strike an enviable balance between visual poetry and detailed characterisation. While the narratives in his films aren't always the most complex or profound, he has a knack of continually pulling us back toward the underlying story, where many lesser directors would get lost in the pyrotechnics.

Whatever else is true about it, Crouching Tiger (as it will be known hereafter) is very pretty. Peter Pau, who won an Oscar for his cinematography, fills the screen with natural shades and then lights them in an almost ethereal manner. The way that the greens of the bamboo and Li Mu Bai's sword seem to shimmer beautifully reflects the dream-like quality of Lee's storytelling and the epic, melodramatic feel that he was going for. This is all the more extraordinary given that Pau previously lensed the horror-comedy Bride of Chucky and Warriors of Virtue, a tedious affair noted for its incoherent, blurry action scenes.

Much of the appeal of martial arts films lies in their physicality and choreography. Many people who went to see Enter the Dragon weren't particularly interested in its story - they were simply taken in by how Bruce Lee could move in the fight scenes. Crouching Tiger benefits in this regard by the presence of Yuen Woo-Ping, the same man who choreographed The Matrix trilogy and later lent his talents to Kill Bill.

While the Wachowskis were off experimenting with 'bullet-time', developing the work of Lee's contemporary John Woo, Crouching Tiger takes a more balletic approach. It treats its martial arts like an elaborate dance, in which the violence perpetrated by sword, dart or hand is as much an end in itself as a means towards a more elaborate series of steps. The film almost draws your attention to the fact that many of the moves being performed are physically impossible, prolonging the length of jumps and glides that could only be achieved by highly-skilled wire work.

Of course, it's possible to appreciate the beauty of characters performing impossible stunts as an aesthetic exercise, such as the running and flying through the bamboo. But Lee manages to keep our disbelief suspended by investing so much time in the characters before the really outstanding fight scenes come along. Even if the story is painted in broad, epic strokes, it's strong enough and feels genuine enough that the dramatic scenes matter, whereas in a weaker film they would merely book-end the set-pieces.

A good example of this comes in a conversation between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi about halfway through the film. During a conversation about the latter's character getting married, Yeoh deliberately allows a small bowl or dish to fall from the table. Ziyi's character grabs it instantly in mid-air, preventing it from smashing on the floor and demonstrating her great reflexes, unintentionally and perhaps unconsciously. This small but impressive action confirms in Yeoh's mind her suspicions about the identity of the Green Destiny's thief - suspicions which we had entertained for some time, and which turn out to be correct.

This example also illuminates the storytelling technique employed by Crouching Tiger. It is melodramatic, insofar as the characters operate within clearly-drawn archetypes and their character development is reasonably clear from the outset. We can probably guess that the love between Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien is destined to be unrequited, just as the thief's identity can be quickly ascertained by the very deliberate close-up on the eyes. While the plot isn't exactly spelled out for the audience, it is possible to spot most of its major points before they occur.

Many films at this point would fall apart because the characters aren't interesting or appealing enough to rise above their generic limitations - films like The Snows of Kilimanjaro, A Place in the Sun, or to a lesser extent Gojira. But Crouching Tiger uses its restrictions more proactively, using our foreknowledge to justify its emotional arcs all the more. Lee repeatedly uses very tight close-ups to force us to read into the characters' faces, and Zhang Ziyi in particular is very adept at making even the slightest smile or tiniest flicker of her eyes seem deeply meaningful.

Crouching Tiger explores a number of interesting themes which bring a greater depth to these kinds of character interactions. One of its big themes is hidden talent, with talent either hiding in plain sight (Jen Yu) or taking every precaution to stay in the shadows (Jade Fox). The title of the film is a literal translation of the original Chinese, which properly translated refers to "a place full of talented and extraordinary people hidden from view."

Within this is a comment on the manner in which women are underestimated or misjudged. Wuxia films incorporate many elements of chivalry, which traditionally depicts the male protagonists as heroes defending the honour of the women. Jen Yu and Yu Shu Lien both sword-fight, but the former consciously rebels against the accepted order, talking back to seasoned warriors like they were naughty schoolboys. The sequence where she lays waste to dozens of fighters in the inn (along with most of the inn itself) is much more empowering than anything that Tarantino has managed when he has dabbled in martial arts.

The film also examines the dominance of teachers over their students, even when the student shows tremendous ability. Most of the characters have some kind of grudge or burden relating to their masters. Jade Fox was sexually assaulted by her master, which makes her bitter, twisted and hateful of all men. Jen Yu doesn't want to be anybody's servant, rebelling against Jade Fox and longing for the more equal and respectful relationship she enjoyed with Lo in the desert. Li Mu Bai's solemn demeanour comes from his vow to avenge his master's death, with his search for justice ultimately leading to his own untimely end.

There is a recurring motif later in the film relating to poison. Poison is both the method used by Jade Fox to defeat Li Mu Bai and a symbol of her corrupting influence over the young Jen Yu. Li Mu Bai's desire for inner peace and clarity is in stark contrast to the chaotic, scrambled mind of Jade Fox; her actions are impulsive, desperate and cowardly, while his are controlled, effective and noble. It's a film about how passion can lead to destruction, whether by the hand of one's enemies or one's own choices. Jen Yu ends the film by diving off the waterfall, hoping to rejoin Lo; her passions have only brought her death and isolation from her friends, and she can no longer deal with either.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a great film which successfully conveys the conventions of wuxia to a Western audience. While those more familiar with the genre may not find it quite so remarkable, it remains a gripping romantic epic with memorable characters, interesting themes and visual beauty to spare. It's also a great introduction to cinema outside the English language or the Hollywood sphere of influence, and essential viewing for anyone interested in martial arts.
Tom D December 27, 2006
This is a fantastic film. There are so many fun action scenes and the performances are excellent. The action scenes are original and very inventive.The script is interesting the entire way through. I highly recommend this film.
Chris P ½ July 15, 2014
This movie has a lot of substance to it, and it is pretty direct. You would be hard pressed to find a better movie in this genre. The fight sequences are brilliantly choreographed.
Walter R July 14, 2014
High flying ridiculousness
Brett C. Brett C. July 8, 2014
Review In A Nutshell:

I was a little disappointed with this film. The film's human drama failed to captivate me, featuring a storyline that concerns the problems of a young woman who internally is in search for a role model and is also torn whether or not she should conform to her family's wishes or instead run away with a bandit whom she has had a relationship with in the past. In reading this, it really does sound interesting and I truly wanted to like this, but maybe I was just unprepared with what this film has to deliver. I was expecting a little bit of sophistication and a sense of realism in its story; I wasn't able to let myself go and conform to its demands, aside from its action sequences. The melodrama in this film was quite strong, and it is emphasised through its dialogue and its accelerated pacing. Maybe I feel this way because my expectations were high for Lee with standout films like Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi; and both were executed in such a way that had me invested with its characters and a story that provided a sense of purpose to revisit time and time again. The main reasons why I would consider coming back to this film are the action sequences and if I undergo an Ang Lee marathon. The action sequences were definitely impressive, but not as much as the hype claimed it would be. It was hard for me to accept the feather-like style of its fighting sequences but after the second confrontation, I was able to accept this and enjoy its complexities. The film features great photography that captures the intensity of its scenes, it is just too bad it didn't feature a story to match it. The acting in this film was surprisingly good, with standout performances from Yun-Fat Chow and Ziyi Zhang. Before coming back to this film in the future, I would try and watch more from the director's filmography. After that, I would watch all of his films in a row and give each one a second opinion.
Jonathan V ½ July 5, 2014
Brilliant. The action scenes, the cinematography, the acting, everything. Brilliant.
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