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Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a timeless story that takes place in QING China when miracles were credible and spirits and gods were present in man's world. It is not unbelievable that zen warriors float through the air, skim the water and battle in trees and on rooftops. Pain, revenge and duty are the stuff that bind us in this world and are the main plot line of the movie, but in the afterlife love and faith linger on. Written by
I gave a wry chuckle when the opening credits pronounced Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a Sony Cinema Classic in the year of its release. However, I too would not have hesitated to brand this film such. It is a cinematic masterpiece that left me in silent reverie at its conclusion.
The film's story unfolds amidst the ancient temples, bamboo forests and painted deserts of nineteenth century China: a sensual, mystical landscape that, at our first high-angle glimpse of Peking takes on a dizzying scale. This world is inhabited by the Wudan, spectral warriors from legend who effortlessly leap between rooftop and bamboo tree, a device which elevates them to a plane divorced from our parochial middle-class values without the loss of their intense humanity. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an ode to the human spirit that transcends genre; it is at once fantasy, romance, historical epic and thriller, enriched by a subtle humour.
At the film's heart are four compelling performances. Ziyi Zhang, is enchanting as the wilful Jen Yu, daughter of a government official, who aspires to the code of the Wudan. Her destiny is entwined with those of Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), disciples of this enigmatic clan, and of the desert bandit Lo (Chen Chang) by the theft of an arcane sword, Mu Bai's quest for revenge and the fulfilment of a powerful yet unrequited love
Chow Yun Fat possesses an hypnotic screen presence in his portrayal of this regal master, who displays an unparalleled heroism untainted by western cliché as the film travels inexorably toward his shuddering death-blow. This resonates long after the credit sequence has run and you've marvelled at how few stunt artists were engaged to actualize the film's thrillingly beautiful fight sequences. These are not the idle distractions aimed at a boyish mind we find in other martial arts films but rather a transcendent form of dance. Their exquisitely honed choreography rivals that of Graham Murphy and Twyla Tharp.
Star of these sequences is the four hundred year old Green Destiny sword that exerts a powerful metaphoric presence on the film. It is a sensuous artefact that sings when struck, punctuating Yo-Yo Ma's haunting cello solos, a feature of the immersive soundtrack.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a film of titanic proportions, with all the pageantry of Kundun, minus the ponderous pace, and without a trace of the cloying sentimentalism which infected Titanic's impoverished narrative. Li Mu Bai's final words are a more fervent declaration of truth than any to have graced the screen before.
After all that, I can offer no further commendation except to say that this is the latest greatest film of my now seemingly hollow existence.
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