The plot has the feel of an opera.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the bold and adventurous Ang Lee takes us with him into the fantasies of his boyhood in Taiwan. The intrepid director, who took on American culture in The Ice Storm and the ways of the English in Sense and Sensibility, has created a visual extravaganza that flies across the dramatic landscape of China. Costumes, choreography, detail, landscapes-none of these is less than elegant.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Lee has managed to write a film that is equal parts love story, martial arts, adventure, and history. As an art film about classical China, it bristles with historical detail. As an action film, it plays excitingly to young people who respond to the extraordinary physical feats of the wandering swordsmen. Just try, whatever your age, taking your eyes off the screen.

As Mr. Lee builds his movie in complicated layers of rhythm and movement, his characters float gently across water, rock, and rooftop-the expression of controlled and concentrated energy. It is a surreal sight, an impossibly beautiful dance.

The plot has the feel of an opera. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat), renowned martial artist, has decided to give away his sword, the legendary Green Destiny, in a metaphorical gesture toward a new life. When the sword is stolen, Mu Bai and his dear friend and fellow warrior, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), undertake a search that takes them through the heritage of the warrior culture of ancient China. They find Jade Fox (Cheng Pei Pei), the targeted enemy who poisoned Mu Bai's master teacher, and Jen (Zhang Ziyi), a young aristocrat about to enter an arranged marriage who covets the freedom of the warrior.

One adult love story unfolds between the warriors Mu Bai and Shu Lien, another between the young lovers Jen and Lo (Chang Chen), a desert bandit whose freedom is intoxicating to Jen. Tradition tells them they may express themselves fully only when they fight. Watch Jen drinking tea with one hand while tossing an outlaw over the railing with another. The three women carry the martial arts here with heart stopping authority, while Mu Bai, acknowledged master, is now a reluctant player caught between revenge and tradition.

Every stroke of a writing brush, every thrust of a sword is rooted in five thousand years of ancient history. Played out spectacularly over Peking rooftops and across the Gobi desert to the soaring notes of Yo-Yo Ma's cello, the film carries us back into history, yet plunges us into the present of the martial arts legacy.

Broadswords, knives, spears, boomerang blades, and "the flying guillotine" fly through the air with deadly accuracy. The four warriors, in an aerial ballet of astonishing accomplishment, spend as much time in the air as their weapons do. They have managed, doubles notwithstanding, to master the drama between their art and the landscape. The line between art and action has finally been blurred in a glorious burst of balletic vengeance.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : Sony Pictures Classics
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 1h59m

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