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
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
But, there is much to discover as the plot
develops...as 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
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
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: $8.25 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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