Ang Lee's multi-award winning film is a wuxia epic that blends romance with complex martial arts action sequences. Two warriors (Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh) are prohibited from declaring their love for one another, and embark on a life-or-death adventure with a young princess (Zhang Ziyi) who has herself been ostracised for falling in love with an outlaw (Chang Chen).

 

4.5
Elusive but magnificent.

Ang Lee is the most extraordinarily diverse filmmaker. He began his career in the country of his birth Taiwan with such films as The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman. He moved to England to direct Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility, then to America for The Ice Storm and Ride With the Devil. With his latest Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon he immerses himself in classic Chinese martial arts.

The plot is complex, involving a legendary warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) who on returning from a period of meditation hands his ancient and mystical sword to fellow fighter Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and asks her to deliver it to a revered friend in Beijing. This she does but very soon the sword is stolen and Yu believes that its disappearance is connected with the young aristocrat Jen (Zhang Zi Yi), who seems to be under the sway of her rather sinister governess Cheng Pei Pei. It seems that Jen is not all that she seems, she's actually more. She admires Yu's independence but in a prolongued flashback we discover that Jen is no shrinking violet - when living in the western districts of China her hair comb is stolen by a brigand Lo (Chang Chen) during an ambush of her road train and she goes to the most extraordinary lengths to get it back.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the most beautifully crafted film - the sound track alone is magnificent - Yo Yo Ma's cello solos are just exquisite. Ang Lee worked with master fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping to create truly beautiful fight sequences; they are balletic in their elegance and much of the credit must go to Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Zi Yi for the hard work that went into their training.

Shot in many parts of China the scenery is breathtaking. This is Ang Lee embracing the culture that was inaccessible to him while growing up in Taiwan, the books on which this film is based were banned when he was young.

If I have a qualm about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it lies not so much in the complexity and occasional silliness of the plot but in the fact that the characters remain elusive despite the love stories that are central to the film, the motivations are a bit obscure. But this is certainly for me the best of Columbia's Silk Screen initiative.

 

Watch 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'

Tuesday 28 September, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies / NOTE: No catch-up at SBS On Demand

M
Taiwan, Hong Kong, USA, China, 2000
Genre: Martial Arts, Drama, Romance
Language: Mandarin
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-Fat, Chen Chang

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