Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2004)
A Bright Light for a Dark Cloud
When most people think of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" they will think that it's a kick ass martial arts movie and to be honest on one level it is, the martial arts action is simply spectacular. But there is a lot more to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" than just the action and it also has an impressive story of romance, betrayal and honour which not so much connects the action scenes but in fact the action scenes embellish the story as they should. It is truly magnificent, a little difficult to get into at times but once it does grab you it's difficult to take your eyes off of it.
Having spent years dedicated to training Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow - Bulletproof Monk) is a feared warrior throughout QING China, but now the time has come for him to retire and in doing so gift his powerful sword to an old friend. But when the sword is taken by a mysterious assassin it causes Mu Bai and his friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to try and recover the stolen sword before it falls into the wrong hands. And when Mu Bai discovers that the Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng), the woman who murdered his master, is involved he becomes more determined than ever not only to get his sword but also to get revenge for his master's death.
For what many see as an action movie there is a lot of storyline to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and there is almost a superhero feel about it. You have the character of Li Mu Bai who years of training in the skills of martial arts has made him a legendary figure, almost immortal thanks to his ability to fight and predict danger. And for years he has sough revenge for the murder of his master by a woman known as the Jade Fox. But like with so many super heroes his dedication to his training, his personal mission means that he has missed out on love despite the obvious affection between him and Yu Shu Lien who herself is also a fearsome warrior of magical fighting abilities.
And being a superhero style storyline you have the bad and the young woman who is veering towards the dark side as she has been trained to be an awesome assassin by the Jade Fox. So in almost a cliche way you have Mu Bai and Shu Lien trying to stop this young assassin from going totally to the dark side before it's too late.
But here is the thing whilst there is a superhero style familiarity to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" it's only one small part of the movie and you have other elements such as the relationships which make it feel different. On one hand you have Yu Shu Lien who wants to be with Li Mu Bai, who wants a normal life with him rather than having to love him from afar. And then you have Jen Yu, the Governor's daughter who being due to marry actually wants her freedom, she wants what Shu Lien has. This side of things and many others add different layers to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and deeper context stopping it form only ever being about the action.
But of course it is that action which "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is known for, the stunning fights, the mid air battles, the slow motion, the running across rooftops and I could go on because every single action scene is breathtaking. But it's not just the big fight scenes which are spellbinding as it is the smaller moments too; watching someone catch a poison dart out of nowhere is just as staggering. It's credit to director Ang Lee that he has made a movie which is a visual treat of snappy action yet not once does it only become about the martial arts theatrics. He gets the balance right so the action is part of the story rather than the story just filling in the gaps in-between the action scenes.
What certainly helps "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is that it's main stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are known to movie fans and helps bridge the gap from being what many would say is just an Eastern movie to one which everyone would want to watch. And to be honest both Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh put in very good performances delivering the action with style but also delivering the emotion of the story, those feelings which simmer underneath their cool exteriors. Even those faces such as Ziyi Zhang who are less well known still impress in exactly the same way, delivering the action but also the emotion of the story in such an effortless way.
What this all boils down to is that "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a stunning movie but one which is stunning for more than just the action. In fact the storyline is just as impressive as the action with so much going on from tales of revenge to love and freedom. It makes "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" a much more rounded movie and whilst the stunning fight scenes are unforgettable it is the storyline which helps make them so good, which gives them purpose rather than being about one person kicking someone else's butt.
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