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"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

Directed by Ang Lee.
Written by Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus and Kuo Jung Tsai.
Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  12/25/00 


Merry Christmas!  (Some people might be PC about this stuff, but not me.)  Hope that this review finds all of you doing well for Christmas 2000.  The flood of engagement news continues, so we must give props to Katy "No Doubt, No Doubt" Berleth, Claudia "Hot Like Egypt" Hanna and Cindy "C-Lo" Loatman who all received proposals in the last couple of weeks.  At the current rate of engagements, I will have to cancel all of my vacation plans next year just so that I can afford buying wedding gifts for the couples.  Man!

So, as many of you know, Chow Yun-Fat is my favorite actor in the world.  With that in mind, I have been waiting for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to come out for over a year because I have known that he was attached to star (although, he was reportedly not the first choice to play his character).  As such, I am sadly the victim of a lot of hype.  I have tried valiantly not to get too excited for this movie to open, and I was doing a good job of it until about three weeks ago, when the movie opened in New York City and Time and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association called it the best film of the year.  Then, I had a hard time not reading about it in the newspaper or seeing interviews with the movie's stars and its director, Ang Lee ("Ride the Red Lantern", "The Ice Storm", "Sense & Sensibility").

The movie went semi-national this past weekend (50 major metro markets) and it has been selling out in DC at almost every showing.  So, the word is getting out on the movie...but, is it any good?

Well, Dave Bell, Chi "Ninja Boy" Szeto and Sandy Chow all accompanied me to check it out this weekend.  And, here is what I do know:  this is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen, in terms of its elaborate sets, glorious costumes and a mystical backdrop of ancient Chinese cities and countrysides.  Although it is never made clear when in time this story takes place (nor is it of much importance), the beauty of the scenery is timeless, whether it be the outskirts of a Chinese desert or the downtown streets of ancient Peking.  The cinematography of the film is excellent and is worth the price of admission alone.

Like the game Mastermind, the plot is easy to learn...difficult to master.  Master Li (Chow Yun-Fat), apparently the greatest swordsman in the world, is ready to retire.  He assigns his top associate-in-arms, Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh, "Supercop", "Tomorrow Never Dies"), to give his 400-year-old sword--the mystically-named Green Destiny--to a man that resides in Peking.  Shu Lien delivers the sword, only to see the sword stolen by a thief the night of the delivery.  This thief is the apprentice of renowned evildoer Jade Fox, Master Li's sworn enemy because Fox killed Li's mentor years before.  Fox and the thief give Li and Shu Lien trouble the rest of the film as they continuously fight out epic battles all over China.

But, there is much to discover as the plot does a possible romance between four of the film's main characters.  It is this particular part of the film which gives me the most trouble.  I like romance, don't get me wrong, as long as Meg Ryan is not in the movie, so that is step one in this process and thankfully, Ryan never shows up here.  The romance that may or may not be real between Li and Shu Lien is the one I wish the storyline followed more closely, because the way Yeoh and Yun-Fat subtlely acknowledge their respect and love for each other was MUCH more interesting than the romance that the film dedicates a straight 30-minute section to--one between the thief, Jen (Zhang Ziyi) and Lo (Chang Chen), the leader of a group of bandits called Dark Cloud.  The film almost put me to sleep as it went into extended flashback covering how Lo met Jen (yes, that is her name in the film; no, I didn't think "Jen" was a traditional Chinese name either) and how they fell in love and out of it again.  This section of the film, if trimmed by 75%, makes "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" a lock for Best Picture.

Yes, the rest of the film is that good.  Despite the fact that the film is done wholly in Mandarin Chinese and completely subtitled, you will be amazed at how important body English is in the movie.  The story has many layers to it that will appeal to moviegoers of all levels...and, it comes across as part comedy, part drama, and part action film.  How many movies this year, besides possibly "Gladiator", can say that?

(A note about the Chinese spoken in this film:  Sandy and Chi both commented after the movie was over that Yeoh's Mandarin was *horrible.*  Not unlike Kevin Costner's "accent" in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", Yeoh put in the effort but came up empty in trying to replicate her character's Mandarin accent.  Of course, she whoops ass real good, so she can only be faulted so much.  Yeoh was originally recruited to star in this film because she speaks English perfectly and the film was originally going to be shot in English and subtitled in Chinese when shipped overseas.)

And, oh, the martial arts in this film...spectacular.  Its two initial sequences are very well done, but because they occur at night, it was a bit hard to pick up what was going on at times but didn't take away too much from what was happening.  However, its two final sequences, one at a Chinese inn and one pitting Jen against Shu Lien in a finale for the Green Destiny, are A+, all-pro, Ultimate Fighting Challenge-quality scenes.  By the time Shu Lien has gone through a machete and a two-handed broadsword trying to pry the Green Destiny sword from Jen's hands, you might just be standing up with applause in the middle of your theater.  Fight scenes like this don't come along every day, friends.

The main players in the movie also spend a good deal of time leaping great distances or walking up walls or simply flying due to their special powers, and the film's stunt crew--led by the same team that developed stunts for "The Matrix"--handles all of these scenes very well...although, way too often.  The first few times Shu Lien takes to the air, it seemed pretty cool to me...but, by the time Master Li is dueling Jen on a branch in a forest, I thought the effect had worn off on me.  What seemed magical at first definitely wore out its welcome by the third act.

Again, if the film had cut away more of its ridiculously overlong flashback sequence, I believe we would have a top-flight production.  But, the events that take place before and after that part of the film make for one of the year's best movie experiences.  Its acting performances, sans Yeoh's accent, are excellent, and Ziyi is an unbelievable talent as she gets most of the screen time and she kicks most of the Chinese booty she confronts in the film.  I wonder where she will show up next...

Rating:  $8.25 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09