10 September 2000 | Drakkhen
As a film student living in Toronto, I look forward to the Toronto International Film Festival every year. Last year, the highlight of the festival for me was American Beauty. This year, it would have to be (so far) Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
Being of Asian descent, I've seen my share of wu xia genre movies to last me a life time. However, most of them are so centred on the fighting, that they forget the rest of the elements that are involed. The movie turns into one long scripted fighting scene with maybe a slight hint of story. Crouching Tiger, on the other hand realizes these issues, and builds these oh-so entertaining action sequences into an epic with typical asian themes such as true love and honour.
Being an epic, one would expect the usual long takes and establishing shots, and boy does it ever look beautiful. Traversing through a myriad of regions spanning the lengh of China (from the deserts to bamboo forests, to mountains high in the clouds), the film soley based on its asthetic properties is nothing short of stunning. The lighting of different landscapes and the exquisitly designed costumes all radiate with stunning colour. And then there's the cinemetography. Wow! The backdrops, establishing shots look absolutely marvelous. If your jaw dropped when you saw Rome and its coliseum in Gladiator, wait until you see ancient Beijing recreated on the screen!
Okay, so it's a good looking movie. What about the story? The complexity of the plot is rather sparse, probably reminiscent of epics such as Braveheart or Gladiator, which is by no means a bad thing. Although both Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeo did have major parts, this movie belongs mostly to Zhang Ziyi who IMHO did an amazing job playing a very complex role (one which required her to represent nobily as a princess, naivness, as well as show inner strength). Mainly concentrating on her unwillingness to give in to the ideals of an arranged marriage, the decently written script adds a story of an old warrior trying to retire and a 300+ year old sword.
All in all, this film blends story, well choreographed action, and a stylistic eye to create a mythilogical piece that not only represents the wu xia genre justly by doing it well, but also contributes to raising the quality of filmmaking usually applied in the making of a similar type of film.