Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee’s Wuxia classic remains a high watermark for the genre and still looks as breathtakingly gorgeous as it ever did. The story is set in the late 18th century and focuses on Chow Yun-Fat’s Li Mu Bai, a highly skilled Wudang Swordsman who is close to leaving his warrior life behind and decides to donate his precious sword to fellow warrior and long-time secret love Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). Mu Bai longs to avenge the death of his master and when the sword is stolen, presumed by the mysterious assassin who once killed his master, the Jade Fox, it sets in motion a chase that will seemingly offer him one final chance to achieve his goal.
The film plays out like an ethereal martial arts fairy tale. The fight scenes are spectacularly good and remain some of the very best captured on film. The sumptuous cinematography is truly remarkable and praise is no doubt due to DP Peter Pau as well as Lee himself. Moments such as the tree top battle between Mu Bai and the mysterious Jen (Zhang Ziyi) or the early roof top chase scene between Jen and Yu Shu Lien stick long in the memory and demonstrate perfectly how Lee was able to combine the otherworldly magic of these superhuman fighters with a visceral action very much grounded in reality.
Crouching Tiger really hit home with international audiences and after becoming the highest grossing foreign language film of all time in the US, it helped to pave the way for countless other martial arts epics that followed. The likes of Hero and House of Flying Daggers owe a great debt to Crouching Tiger in this regard.
Personally I did find the scenes between Jen and the bandit Lo (Chang Chen) a little slow compared to the rest of the film, and it can lag a little when the more melodramatic elements of the story are the focal point, but for the most part it is an exhilarating and captivating movie filled with revenge, passion and incredible fight sequences.