Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) — Wire-fu wonder

“A faithful heart makes wishes come true”

PoolMan’s rating: I want to fly too, but I can only jump a couple of feet.

PoolMan’s review: During the great Mutant Summit of 2000, Justin introduced me to a young magazine called Total Movie, which to me, seems like probably the coolest movie mag ever. The news was hip, relevant, and cutting edge, and even came with a free DVD in each issue, filled with previews and trailers. It was within the pages of this magazine that I first learned about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Since then, I’ve pretty much been salivating to see this film. Last night was the night, and goodness me, I wasn’t disappointed.

The initial storyline behind CTHD is pretty straightforward. A famous warrior decides to give up his legendary sword, Green Destiny, only to have it stolen that night by the minion of the villain who long ago killed his master. Sounds simple enough, right? Don’t worry, it gets deeper, far deeper. Complex storylines involving arranged marriages, roving desert bandits, witches, and warriors with names more absurd than “Dances With Wolves” abound throughout, and you’ll find yourself drawn into the rich story right along with the characters. Allegiances shift quickly, and you’ll find yourself scrambling to keep on top of who’s loyal to who, but you’ll love the game, and the ending is fresh and unique by Hollywood standards.

This is particularly amazing considering the genre of the film; at its heart, it’s a martial arts film . The styles are all Chinese (think of Ray Park in The Phantom Menace, who studies wushu), featuring heavy use of wire fu, the style of fighting used in movies that involves suspending the actors by (duh) wires, giving them the illusion of weightlessness and almost true flight. While this floaty style takes a little getting used to for our untrained North American eyes, it grows on you, and you begin to accept the amazing things the characters do as real. Amazing fight scenes permeate the movie, not just in the bar and desert scenes, but also in original locations like across the rooftops of a village, and even on top of a bamboo forest. It’s all done with a chilling beauty, and whether you’re a martial arts aficionado or not, you will be hopelessly engaged in the battles and characters alike. The swordplay is, in a word, inspired.

All this said, I have a warning for those of you who mailbombed me after my review of Run Lola Run, concerning subtitles. This movie is spoken in Chinese, period. Subtitles abound, and if you are of subpar intelligence, or otherwise just can’t get into that, don’t see CTHD. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

I could have done with a little bit more comic relief, but there were some hearty laughs in the film. Particularly the fight between Shu Lien and Jen, when Shu Lien picks up a huuuuuuge weapon, starts to swing it, and falls over from the weight. It was nice to see a lighthearted touch every now and then, but I may have asked for one or two moments more to catch my breath and smile.

Oscar rumours have already started circulating for this awesome film, and it’s not hard to see why. It won the 2000 Sundance Festival, and features so much packed into one movie, it’s almost impossible. Everything about this movie is beautiful, from its deep story to its beautiful cinematography, from its outstanding fight scenes to the tangible emotions of its actors. You will love this movie, or I will have to kill you.

Special Note: True story. I went to see this movie with a friend in theater, and got there early. Having our choice of seat, we picked some prime real estate and watched everyone else filter in, including a mother and four year old daughter, who sat right behind us. From the whispered words “Mommy, what are they saying?” and “But I don’t want to be quiet!”, I knew this would be a problem, and after a couple of minutes of inane child-chatter, we had to move, as it proved too distracting. For the love of God, people, don’t take your kids to see a movie spoken in a language they don’t understand, lest you experience true Mutant wrath. (I don’t blame the little girl, just the mom)

Justin’s rating: My blue-dragon fighting style will defeat you, Zim-BAH!

Justin’s review: Prologue to this review: As much as I was looking forward to this movie, it was incredibly fortuitous that this happened to be the first movie I saw in the theater during 2001 (last year’s dubious winner of that was Scream 3). Hot dog and cherry Icee in hand, I stretched out and waited for the film to begin. Five seconds into the second trailer, the two largest women in the world trumpeted past my seat and sat right next to me. Unless the theater is packed, I think you’d all agree with me that it’s common courtesy to give people a seat’s worth of space between you and a stranger. As I’m fighting for my right to breathe and armrest space, they begin to chat loudly, and I move to another row without further pause. The moral here is? Don’t let your hesitation for moving to another seat ruin a good movie.

So. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or as I’ve been known to call it, Cow Tipping, Howdy Doody). A movie that slipped under my radar until it practically came out. Then all I’m hearing is “Best martial arts movie ever” this, and “Your life won’t be complete without seeing it” that. It was hard to fathom why an Asian film would be such a smash hit over here in the states (even the incredibly great German film Run Lola Run only did meager box office over here). But it is now upon us, like a manic Chinese warrior slicing and dicing sixteen types of vegetables.

This martial arts fantasy epic (epic in scope, not in its two-hour length) opens with a lot of gibberish. From consulting with my Palm Pilot, I learn that this is an actual language used elsewhere on our planet, and the filmmakers have been courteous enough to supply a translation with subtitles. Yay, an action flick where I’m reading subtitles. The thing you have to keep in mind is that is definitely is weird to do at first, but then you soon realize that you read way faster than they talk, so you shouldn’t have any problem keeping up with the story.

The story itself is more complicated than most soap operas’ 15-year run, but I’ll try to summarize. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat, who can be easily recognized by his hairpiece which looks to be slipping off the back of his head) is an ex-warrior who is leaving his life of fighting to work at a McDonald’s or something. He gives over his sword, a supposedly mystical blade called Green Destiny, for safekeeping to Sir Te. Ack, I just realized that if I try to summarize, I’ll be here all afternoon. To make a long story short (too late!), Guy #1 (ex-warrior) has this unrequited romance with Girl #1. They’re chasing after Bad Guy #1, who has recruited Girl #2, who has ANOTHER unrequited romance with Guy #2. The relationships are wonderfully convoluted, and it’s hard to tell who is good or bad, because they tend to fight everyone that moves.

Thus, the key to why Adjective Tiger, Adjective Dragon is such a great film. Not only is the cinematography terrific, but the fight scenes (of which there are many and varied) are jaw-droppingly awesome. You have never seen fights like this before, and if you thought The Matrix had a monopoly on running on walls and super-fast moves, you were wrong. The characters fight with bare hands, feet, swords, polearms, knives, blades, clubs, darts, and even rocks and roof tiles. They move blindingly fast, performing complex choreography that sometimes involves up to six people, beating the crap out of each other while never quite hurting anyone (sure, there are a few people killed, but those are acceptable losses). Here are my initial notes from the film:

First 20 minutes: “Huh. Weird gibberish. Nice costumes. Stop talking already!”

Minute 21 (approx.): Drool obscures my page as I bathe in the glory of the first fight scene.

What makes CTHD’s fights even cooler is that three of the characters have mastered some sort of martial arts that lets you practically defy gravity. They run straight up walls, leap from rooftop to rooftop, and in one incredible fight, they battle it out on the tops of very thin bamboo trees. It’s a little much to blithely accept at first, but like subtitles, soon you get to loving it without noticing its strangeness. Bottom line: if you like intense fight scenes, you’ll never do better than this film. They never repeat locations or ideas, and I don’t think I could pick a favorite out of the bunch. I loved how Jen beat up an entire teahouse full of ruffians (poor guys), and the two women battling it out with an entire arsenal of weapons at their fingertips had me bouncing like a baby kung-fu fighter.

Let me stress that this movie is about more than just fighting. The characters are developed well, particularly Jen (Ziyi Zhang), whose struggle for independence forces her to deny her integrity. There’s a lot of romance banging around, and we learn that if you want to seduce a Chinese super-warrior, you have to be prepared to handle an arrow stabbed into your chest. Surprisingly, a lot of funny parts abound, in spite of having to read most of it through subtitles. I was cracking up over the warrior names that various characters gave to themselves, all of which seemed to be pulled out of a random word generator (“Fighting Blue Eagle”, “Arm of Dyn-o-Mite”, “Panda Avenger”, etc). Most of the film’s non-fighting high points often lay in subtle gestures and looks, and while I’m not a woman, I think I caught a few of them.

Promptly after getting back from the theater I attempted to run up my wall and hang from the ceiling, Spidey-style. For all intents and purposes it worked, except that the laws of gravity were still at work in and around my body. I’m sure some day that when Mutant Reviewers: The Movie comes out, PoolMan and I will stage a very lethargic fight scene that will rival the best that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has to offer. It would probably involve flinging Dorito chips and wielding Twinkies.

DnaError’s rating: No, *I* am the invincible Queen of Swords!

DnaError’s review: What can I say about this movie that hasn’t been said already? It’s a beautiful, visually intense movie, with complex characters and plot…and enough jaw-dropping, ballet-like action to kill a large necked animal!

Really, you are seriously missing out if you’re not seeing this movie…even if you don’t like subtitles… trust me, I brought my brother… who HATES reading in any form, and by the end he was cheering along with Jen. No one I have talked to who has seen it can say anything expect that it’s one of the best movies they’ve seen in a LONG time. Working on almost all levels, from character study to customed drama to pounding action to Star Wars for the oriental set, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is just a great damned movie.

Clare’s rating: it’s not as good as everyone keeps saying it is…. IT’S BETTER!

Clare’s review: I don’t have anything much to add to the consensus here that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a really really good movie. I’ll just make the following suggestions:

This movie is definitely big screen material. You may be thinking that you’ll catch this when it comes to video to spare yourself some dough. I say, scrape together the money you’ll need to see a matinee and go see it in the theaters while you still have the chance. Try to pick a theater that’s got really good surround sound stereo and sit up near the front. Seeing this at home just won’t do it justice.

Also, if you’re subtitle shy and think that foreign language films are not your cup of tea, this movie would be a perfect way for you to dip your feet into a new experience that I’m sure you’ll walk away happy for having tried. Yeah, it’s not in English. Neither is most of the rest of the world. Take a chance. Be brave. Four (so far) deranged Mutants wouldn’t lie to you, promise.

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