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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 01/09/01 15:00:10

"Great Kung-Fu, Great Set, Great Story"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Its no surprise that theatres are selling out showings of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. What started on a few indie/art house screens is now being played on screens across America. Not bad for a "foreign" film. This is the epic-like film we've been waiting for. The tale looses a stitch now and again, but in all, its a solid, engaging, beautifully crafted film that more than makes up for the forgivable lapses in storytelling with all the gorgeous details.

Too bad American Cinema doesn't have a corpus of tradition to borrow from when crafting its own epic tales.

The Chinese don't need to (nor would it make any sense to) create a retelling of Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments. They have an ancient culture with an enormous amount of myths and legends to work with, in addition to contemporary inner practices that are virtually unknown or unacknowledged as a whole in western culture.

If you can get your head around taoism, then Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will lift off the screen. This is, in a sense, another fantastic kung fu movie. It is also a gangster tale and it is also a love story. But it is primarily about the inner training of great warriors and an esoteric system of martial arts taught only to an elite cadre of men. The Wudan (or Wu-Tang) is a mythical clan of practitioners of the magical arts. The Wudan style thus incorporates not only the traditional balance and focus of martial arts, but also a bending of physical reality with the mind.

Not only does this film share with The Matrix the idea of physics being merely a state of mind, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also used the same stunt team to pull off the incredible fight scenes.

Its hard to say exactly what this film is about. Its not exactly an epic. It is epic-like. We don't see several generations of a conflict on the film, we are exposed to a story that reaches back into the past and pushes us to look at the future. Although the Wudan accept only women, men and women are treated with equal respect. There are three principal characters but I figure that the main character a movie ends with is really the important character in a film since she is the focal point to carry the story into the future. The story of the two elder warriors exist to support the story of the Princess prodigal who will go on to change who and why fighters get trained on Wudan mountain.

Three of the main characters are female and none of them have any qualms about kicking your face off. They are also socially graceful, intelligent and consulted for their expertise or deferred to for their accomplishments. I don't know if the status of women was so fortunate in China during the period in which the film is set, but the movie takes women out of the role as only a love object to be disputed over by men and turns them into the driving vehicle of the story. Feminists rejoice.

Ang Lee has a penchant for girly films. In this girly film, the women are powerful, independant and self-directed. Many kick-ass kung fu scenes get the heart racing. The love story subplots thankfully do not turn this film into a sappy romance but add to characterization and development of the overall goal of the story which is to propell the Princess into the spotlight and move her to the next and most important phase of her life.

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