Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon tells the tale of multiple characters: Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) a master swordsman and owner of the Green Destiny Sword, an ancient and legendary weapon that befits a man of his skill; Shen (Michelle Yeoh) a friend of Li, skilled fighter and former fiance of his sworn brother who was killed; Lo (Chang Chen), a desert bandit; and the mysterious Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), a governor’s daughter and free spirit with an unusual affinity for martial arts. When the Green Destiny is stolen, these characters and more will cross paths, revealing pasts, shedding blood, and creating one of the most stunning films ever in the process.
Director Ang Lee creates a world that will be familiar to genre enthusiasts, but much more human and beautiful than the typically shlocky and mass produced products of the past. The film is shot beautifully, care of the impeccably skilled Christopher Doyle, and the sets and locales in which the film is shot are well chosen and perfectly depicted. Lee is able to extract incredibly nuanced and human performances from his cast and the way in which the film is brought together, is nothing short of breathtaking. For the action scenes, Lee handed the reins over to legendary action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping. Utilizing a mix of wirework and real physical stuntwork, Yuen delivers a graceful almost ballet-like aesthetic to the action. Intricately choreographed, well paced, and endlessly entertaining, Yuen has been able to truly put the ‘art’ in martial arts.
The acting of both Chow and Yeoh is stupendous, particularly when they are together. Chow’s Li is virtuous and full of justice but torn when concerning Yeoh’s Shen. Yeoh herself gives probably the best performance of her career and to see her final scene in the film, it is a wonder she wasn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar among the many nods the film received. Chang Chen, a model, gives a solid performance and gives a wildness and tenacity to his character that serves as a perfect complement to Zhang Ziyi’s Jen. Zhang is without a doubt a breakthrough star of the film, despite having been in films previously, and CTHD is without a doubt her entry into world cinema. She’s beautiful, graceful, and such a natural actress, it is impossible to take your eyes off of her whenever she is onscreen. Truly she delivers a once in a lifetime performance.
With a haunting and well composed score, courtesy of Tan Dun, the music accurately delivers the emotional highs and lows. The score is so memorable that one can clearly recall the entire film simply by listening to the music. The film is suffixed with a solid ballad via the lovely Coco Lee.
Breaking box office records, garnering numerous film awards and nominations, and influencing hundreds of action films in the process, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuck like a lightning bolt with its strong romantic tale of love and its use of amazing fight direction to forever change cinema. With a grand epic scale and one of the most distinguished award runs of all time, this film can easily be categorized as a classic. Over a decade later and with its influence still being felt, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains the one film which I consider to be the total package, and that is, the perfect film.