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Wudan swordsman Li Mu Bai
Meditates but goes too high.
He resolves to now retire
But must still avenge his sire,
For his master was brought low
By the Jade Fox long ago.
Mu Bai has a deep connection
With Shu Lien but curbs affection.
When Shu Lien goes to Beijing
With Li’s sword for safekeeping,
She meets young patrician Jen,
Who befriends the strong Shu Lien.
Mu Bai’s sword Green Destiny
Soon is stolen suddenly
By a figure in the night,
Matching Shu Lien in a fight.
Shu Lien knows that it is Jen,
Who is stronger than most men.
One policeman wants things solved,
For the Jade Fox is involved.
In a courtyard fight, Jen shocks
Her own teacher, the Jade Fox,
As Jen proves how sharp and skilled
She can be, and so strong-willed.
Ere Jen’s marriage brings her woe,
She is visited by Lo,
Desert bandit and her swain,
Who insists she not remain.
Mu Bai sends him safe away,
Jen then flees and goes astray.
With the great Green Destiny,
She flaunts her ability,
Beating fighters left and right
With no end or goal in sight.
When she goes to see Shu Lien,
This wise woman angers Jen.
Though Jen barely wins their duel,
Li Mu Bai is much too cool.
He just wants to teach the lass,
But it seems she’d rather pass.
Jade Fox comes to “save” her pupil
But has neither love nor scruple.
Jen is drugged and meant to die
But rescued by Li Mu Bai.
Jade Fox dies but her foul art
Strikes him with a poison dart.
Passing while he loves Shu Lien,
Mu Bai can’t be saved by Jen.
Wishing all but love denied,
Jen leaps off the mountainside.

There is not an abundance of foreign-language films on my list, nor of martial arts movies, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is something unique. There are some moments that seem pulled from a comic book, like when Li Mu Bai says something like “We meet again, my old foe,” and there are other scenes of sheer beauty. The Oscar-winning cinematography is outstanding, showcasing the Chinese landscape from deserts to bamboo forests to towering misty mountains.

The other big draw is the bravura fight scenes, choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping of The Matrix fame. It’s staggering to imagine how much work went into staging the long, exciting martial arts duels, which are spaced periodically throughout the film. The actors leap and kick and defy gravity like Jedi knights, and, though some scenes of them running through the air look rather unrealistic, the wire work is seamless and extraordinary. The exchange with Li Mu Bai and Jen in the treetops and Jen’s awesome smackdown in a crowded restaurant are highlights of the whole genre, and the actors did most of their own stunts.

For all its visual splendor, I do wish the characters themselves were a bit more developed. Li Mu Bai, Shu Lien, and Jen are well-drawn, but most of the secondary characters aren’t given enough to do to distinguish one from another. While Ang Lee’s direction is excellent for the most part, the way he starts the film without much prologue or explanation doesn’t help the fact that I, as an American, don’t understand all of the Chinese culture he presents. As for the ending, it’s beautiful and mysterious, but it does leave the viewer scratching his head.

While most of the fighting is bloodless, there is at least one violent death, as well as a brief but steamy love scene. Despite this, the film is mostly clean and successfully portrays two distinct romances, the more mature, restrained love of Mu Bai and Shu Lien and the younger passionate love of Jen and Lo. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon merges transcendent conversations, epic action, exotic locales, vengeful villainy, and forbidden passion into an entertaining film worthy of both Oscars and awe.

Best line: (Sir Te to Shu Lien, speaking of Li Mu Bai) “When it comes to emotions, even great heroes can be idiots.”

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 6
Entertainment: 7
Visual Effects: 9
Originality: 6
Watchability: 7
Other (brief violence/sex and weak secondary characters): -4
TOTAL: 41 out of 60

Next: #205 – Superman

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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