Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) 臥虎藏龍

Country: Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, USA
Language: Mandarin
Director: Ang Lee
Running Time: 120 minutes
Starring: Chow Yun-fatt, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen

Theme: Culture (wuxia pian)

Ratings: IMDb.com: 8.0/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 97% | Metacritic.com: 93/100

Film Festivals:
2000 Bergen International Film Festival
2000 Ghent International Film Festival
2000 Toronto International Film Festival

(Selected) Awards:
2001 Academy Awards: Oscar for Best Art Direction/Best Cinematography/Best Foreign Language Film/Best Music, Original Score
2001 Australian Film Institute: Best Foreign Film Award
2001 BAFTA Awards: Best Costume Design, Best Film Not in the English Language
2001 Directors Guild of America Award: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
2001 Golden Globe Awards: Best Director – Motion Picture, Best Foreign Language Film
2000 Golden Horse Film Festival: Best Film
2001 Hong Kong Film Awards: Best Director, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Cheng Pei-Pei)
2000 Toronto International Film Festival: Best Director (Ang Lee0

(Selected) Nominations:
2001 Academy Awards: Oscar for Best Costume Design/Best Director/Best Editing/Best Music, Original Song/Best Picture
2001 Art Directors Guild: Excellence in Production Design Award for a Feature Film
2001 BAFTA Awards: Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Film, Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting Actress (Zhang Ziyi)
2000 Golden Horse Film Festival: Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi), Best Director, Best Film
2001 Hong Kong Film Awards: Best Actor (Chow Yun-Fatt), Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi)

Released at the start of the millennium, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a Chinese language martial arts (wuxia) film directed by Ang Lee. It features an international cast of ethnic Chinese actors such as Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. The movie was based on the fourth installment in a series of novels – the Crane Iron Pentalogy – by early 20th century novelist Wang Du Lun. A multinational production with investments from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and USA, the film is credited to these four countries although the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Picture was accredited to Taiwan in the end. But this could prove to be an interesting case study of how countries want to gain co-ownership of a movie that does well in the international circuit, but this urge is of less important amongst co-productions that do not become as prominent on a global scale. [Point in note: I’ve always thought of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as a Taiwanese film, and it is only through my research for these film notes that I realize the involvement of other countries]

Set amid the Qing dynasty, the story revolves around martial arts master Li Mu Bai, who embarks on a quest for revenge in his attempt to recover Green destiny, a seemingly invincible weapon. Along the way, he meets with resistance from a host of people, including his arch-nemesis Jade Fox and Jen.

Despite its largely ridiculous storyline, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did a magnificent job in terms of its martial arts portrayal. It was, as Park (2001) so aptly put it, “a rare example of fearless yet thoughtful experimentation by veteran filmmakers”, especially when we consider that this was director Ang Lee’s first experience with martial arts films. The camerawork is artful but not showy. Every shot is designed to sustain the illusion of reality.

One of the film’s features that really stood out was its heavy use of wirework. A controversial issue amongst martial arts movie fans, wirework is traditionally seen as cheesy and over-exaggerated. It dramatizes the characters’ actions and movements unnecessarily and makes everything seem really incredulous. However, in the case of Crouching Tiger, its extensive use of wirework actually came across rather positively and it blended well together with the dance-like choreography of the characters’ movements without going overboard. As Zacharek (2000) aptly says, “the camera work is artful but not showy, every shot is designed to sustain the illusion of reality”. Testament to this was the memorable sword fight sequence between Li and Jen where they were ‘flying’ high up in the lush greenery of tall bamboo trees. Most of this is largely due to the work of Yuen Wo-Ping, a highly revered choreographer who worked on big films such as Jet Li’s Fist of Legend (1994) and The Matrix (1999).

Another feature that struck me was the film’s stunning cinematography – with its breath-taking use of locations such as Beijing’s Forbidden City, the Gobi Desert and stunning shots of snow-capped mountains, all of which play a big part in conveying the epic scope that the story demands. Together with the enthralling soundtrack, viewers are treated to an imaginary China that is both lush and ethereal.

Personally, I felt that the movie was visually and aesthetically brilliant, but it could have been better had it adopted a more consistent tone throughout. I’m not sure if it was part of director Ang Lee’s strategy to create a film that straddled between being an art house film and a kung fu theatrical, but what we got (at times) is a film that swings unevenly between emotional melodrama and physical brawls. This could have been due to director Ang Lee’s background prior to Crouching Tiger, where his films were all built on highly personal levels that dealt with the detailed complexities of relationships and the conflicts that arise from them.

That aside, the entertaining mix of action, romance and the exotic settings gave the movie a very wide appeal and created a highly pleasant viewing experience that will entertain almost all audience.

References

Park, S. (2001, January 20). Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Retrieved on November 5, 2010, from http://www.culturekiosque.com/nouveau/cinema/rhetiger.html

Zacherek, S. (2000, December 8). Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Retrieved on November 5, 2010, from http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/review/2000/12/08/crouching_tiger/

 

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