Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Synopsis: In 19th century Qing Dynasty China, a warrior (Chow Yun-Fat) gives his sword, Green Destiny, to his long-time friend (Michelle Yeoh) to deliver to safe keeping, but it is stolen from an emerging warrior (Ziyi Zhang), and the chase is on to find it. The search leads to the House of Yu, where the story takes on a whole different level.
Two storied Wudang warriors come face-to-face with a new master who possesses the iconic Green Destiny sword in Ang Lee’s beloved martial arts epic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Personally, I love when movies are restored to the big screen. Getting a chance to experience time-honored features for the first time in their proper format is a true gift as a film fan. In 2022, I was enraptured by the icey tensions of John Carptenter’s The Thing and also enjoyed returning to the childhood wonder I experienced with Avatar back in 2009. Sure, some of these classics I can watch at home at my convenience, but to me, nothing tops the grandiosity and scale of a big-screen viewing experience.
With Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s 4K re-release, I was beyond excited to indulge in a cinematic blindspot of mine from one of my favorite directors. Thankfully, the experience did not disappoint.
I cannot sing enough praise about Ang Lee. With features like Lust, Caution, Brokeback Mountain, and the criminally underrated Gemini Man, Lee showcases rare poise as a storyteller. His movies always possess a sense of gentle tranquility, quietly reflecting on challenging quandaries with affectionate and aching humanity. On a technical end, Lee is also incredibly innovative, pushing new cinematic boundaries that test the format’s limits.
It’s easy to see why many consider Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Lee’s treasured opus. He and martial arts coordinator Yuen Wo-ping create a true martial arts marvel. Every setpiece is boundless in its creativity and high-flying movements, with the camera dynamically dancing through the imaginative wonder of each fascinating clash.
Most importantly, Lee ensures that the action beats are purposeful tools to heighten his narrative. The crashing roar of clashing swords, the graceful traversal of characters floating through the landscape, and the underlying tensions of each encounter all serve as essential elements in creating emotionally-charged moments. Each detail of the film, from the breathtaking vistas to the immersive production design, is composed with remarkable skill by Lee and his filmmaking team.
The storytelling in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is equally adept. Lee and the screenwriting team of Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus and Kuo Jung Tsai craft a true Hollywood epic. The film presents an enthralling sense of scale as it effortlessly highlights the insular dynamics of several characters. We have our central Wundang warriors – Master Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien – two interconnected masters of their craft who harbor unacted romantic feelings for one another. There’s the emerging martial arts master Jen, an heiress from an elitist family who wistfully dreams of an adventurous life, and her sinister master Jade Fox. Fox is not only a rival to Mu Bai for murdering his master, but also a discarded remnant of a traditional society that shunned her very existence.
The screenplay awards each of these characters with remarkable textures. There’s such romanticism and depth in the ways Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon reckons with its characters, truly toiling in their struggles with an attentiveness that action movies rarely showcase. The arc of Jen is a particular standout. Her battle against the chauvinist patriarchy of her traditional society makes her a profoundly empathetic force, but the conflict also opens her up to a complex ethical dilemma. The film pays meticulous attention to her morality, whether she will embrace her remarkable skills for good or succumb to the anger and frustration stemming from her treatment in society. In all senses, these well-calibrated arcs display humanity in its most intimate and affecting states.
The performances also elevate the movie’s strength. Chow Yun-Fat carries the gravitas of a statured warrior as Master Li Mu Bai, and Michelle Yeoh commands the screen with poise and dynamism as Yu Shu Lieh. Both actors develop palpable chemistry onscreen as even their wordless exchanges still carry expressive feelings at every turn. Ultimately, Ziyi Zhang is the film’s true beating heart as Jen. She displays exuberance and complexion throughout, effectively bringing the character’s nuanced plights to life.
I rarely get to go to the cinema and discover a new all-time favorite film. Thankfully, the re-release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gave me that exhilarating experience. This is a masterful and emotionally sumptuous work that will continue to stand the test of time.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is now in theaters and available on home media.
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