Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
***.8 GM
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Cheng Pei Pei, Chen Chang


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I was wondering how a kung-fu movie was garnering such critical acclaim. Now I know. It basically takes the martial-arts movie to the next level, making sure it's not the focus of the whole film. It's the actual story of the film that drives it forward, and the kicking is an ancillary treat.

It's a mythical tale, complete with martial artists that can defy the laws of physics with ease, be it traversing across water, fighting on willowy tree-tops or simply leaping tall buildings in a single bound with effortless grace. It's beautiful to watch, and it helps us truly believe that these people are legendary throughout their lands, and throughout time, for that matter. Yet these magnificent warriors find their lifestyles to be unfulfilling and confining, bound by honor to repress their true desires. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) is the most renowned warrior in the land, the bearer of the Green Destiny sword, but he wants to give up his fighter's life and find peace with Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), another near-invincible tush-kicker, but the fact that she was once betrothed to Bai's late brother many years ago keeps them apart, as they do not wish to dishonor him. Yet their desire for each other is painfully clear to themselves, each other, and the audience. Their struggle against their own honor code, misguided in this case, comes across as immense frustration, and you can't help but feel for them - they are so impressive, just and wise in the rest of their lives that they should have earned the right to be together... but it is forbidden, even if only in their own minds.

Enter Jeri (Zhang Ziyi). The daughter of esteemed Governor Yu, she is about to be married off and despises her priveleged but restricted lifestyle because of it. She has been secretly schooled in a warrior's ways by the Jade Fox (Cheng Pei Pei), Bai's archenemy that has infiltrated Yu's entourage as Jeri's nanny, but Jeri has amazing potential to surpass even her teacher in the art of ass-whippin', and the fantastic stories she's heard of the Giang Hu (a sort of Jedi boys club with no social standing) life, of which Li Mu Bai is the most famous practitioner, hold tremendous appeal to the young, rebellious girl, and her self-absorption leads to her walking the edge between a life of honor and a life of crime.

As much as I hate to use words like 'breathtaking' or 'gorgeous' to describe anything, they do tend to apply to this film. The imagery is striking, the action is gracefully done once you suspend any disbelief, and the central tragedies of the story are genuinely compelling. The action complements the characters well, as opposed to the film being built around fight scenes, and that's what a good action flick is all about - action that makes sense. It can't be gratuitous and have any real degree of quality.

Zhang Ziyi is incredible as the central character whose allegiances are never really certain. Even when she's being a snotty brat, she doens't cause any interest to be lost in how she tackles her journey through the film. Yeoh, who I've been digging since "Supercop," has the stirring ability to convey her aching for Li Mu Bai with almost nothing but her eyes, and Chow Yun Fat was smooth as smooth can be as the peaceful man that can kick your ass twelve ways to Sunday but has outgrown any desire to - making Yeoh's desire that much more believable. Interesting characters in intriguing situations using cool secret Force powers in stunning locales. It's so engrossing that you can easily forget that you're reading.

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