Urban Cinefile
"Since the revival of mashed potato on restaurant menus, it's been clear that we live in reactionary times."  -Jan Epstein, on Independence Day
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



The title draws on an ancient Chinese saying that characterises situations wherein dwell hidden heroes and legends – where nothing is as it seems. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is a famous and renowned warrior, but he is unable to declare his love for Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) the woman, another warrior trained in the highest form of martial arts, who herself conceals an inner turmoil and yearning that answers Li Mu Bai’s. When the young princess Jen (Zhang Zi Yi) becomes involved in their world via an ancient sword, symbol of the good and the bad in battles fought, a death-defying adventure begins. The biggest threat is Jade Fox (Cheng Pei Pei) a feared fighter, with a mysterious link to Jen, who herself becomes an outcast when she refuses to wed the man chosen for her, falling in love with the outlaw Lo (Chang Chen) in the desert.

"The sparkling jewel in the crown of Columbia TriStar’s Silk Screen Collection, Ang Lee's masterpiece, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a magnificent spectacle of fantasy, drama and action. Capturing the flavours and textures of its exotic oriental setting, this moving saga unfolds gracefully and eloquently on many levels, encompassing wishes and dreams, superstitions and their hidden meanings. Like the enigmatic title, this complex, visually glorious and richly layered film satisfies all our emotions and sparks our imagination. Gloriously costumed with superb production design and a seductive score, it's tale of love, honour and redemption, bound together by tradition and spirituality. In keeping with the grandeur of its scale, the martial arts, flying and sword-fight sequences dazzle beyond belief. They are positively staggering; my heart leapt into my mouth and I didn't dare blink, in case I missed a moment. Women are certainly not passive observers here; wait till you see the furious fight sequences between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Zi Yi as they run up and down walls, fly over the rooftops and perform the most extraordinary ballet-like martial arts imaginable. This is action at its most impressive, intensified by the weight of the underlying mind games and sense of being. Chow Yun Fat and Zhang Zi Yi's encounter high in the treetops is perhaps the most fantastic of all, and the eye-popping flying sequences are far beyond those seen in The Matrix. But the performances are every bit as amazing as the awesome stunts. Chow Yun Fat, an actor with great substance and charisma, is beautifully matched by Michelle Yeoh (refined, restrained); their love is a flame waiting to ignite. Direct from her charming debut in The Road Home, Zhang Zi Yi as Jen is astonishing – a whirlwind of passion and energy exuding the fearlessness of youth. There's a lovely moment when Jen, captured by Lo (aka Dark Cloud), wakes up in a cave filled with necklaces, ornaments, chests – his treasures – we realise she is one of them. It's a feisty impetuous love affair; the converse of the restraint exercised by the older couple. Fans of 1960 kung fu films will welcome the appearance of Cheng Pei Pei as the aptly named Jade Fox. Gripping, thrilling and hugely affecting, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is haunting, riveting cinema, deserving of the highest accolades."
Louise Keller

"Gladiator was perhaps the most recent epic we have seen – well, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is even epicer. Gathering the voluminous novel under its cinematic wings, the film soars with the turbocharger of passion and legend, an unrelentingly exciting drama of humans being slightly superhuman, in pursuit of noble aims. Or the opposite, where pride is the greatest motivation. It is also a script that staples together ancient Chinese culture and symbolism with a Western storytelling structure. In an extraordinary feat of balance, Ang Lee and the screenplay writers deliver 120 minutes of film that combines dizzying action sequences with moments of stillness and introspective humanity. The motivations of our protagonists –love, honour, justice, wisdom - provide substance and anchor for the action; the issues explored include the great imponderables of humanity: how do we lay down our sword when our foe does not. How can we be vulnerable and declare our love when rejection is so painful. How can we follow tradition when it leads to misery. And so on. As we grow to understand the characters, we become engaged in their world and associate with their quandaries, traveling with them through some spectacular physical – as well as emotional – landscapes. The five month shoot included stops at the remote Flaming Mountain of Xinjiang, the Bamboo Forest at Anji, North at Cheng De, to the mysterious peaks of Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), as well as the expansive Gobi desert and glacier valleys. This complex, moving, rivetingly entertaining and visually stunning film is recommended for all audiences – and don’t worry about the subtitles. Just worry about what sort of a film experience can top this one."
Andrew L. Urban

"The spirit of Shaw Brothers' golden age of martial arts is alive and well in Ang Lee's dazzling Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Audiences who have never witnessed this kind of action/melodrama/fantasy/romance will gasp as the heroic tale unfolds. Those in the know will appreciate it as one of the finest examples of the genre ever committed to celluloid. Lee, inspired by the Shaw Brothers/Golden Harvest actioners of his youth in the 60's and 70's, rolls the elements into a breathtaking package as the Green Destiny sword changes hands and with it the fortunes of the main protagonists. Proceedings open at a carefully measured pace as the long-repressed love between Li Mu Bao and Yu Shu Lien is established; their true feelings cloaked under the code of honour of former warriors dedicated to avenging the death of Li's master and Yu's lover at the hands of Jade Fox. The first action set-piece, twenty minutes in, is a breathtaking example of wire work at its best as Yu Shu Lien and the masked female thief who's stolen the sword glide up and down walls and hop across rooftops. Spontaneous applause may result. There are other superb set pieces (Jen taking on all-comers in a restaurant, Jen and Li Mu Bai fighting while floating through a forest) but Crouching Tiger... has much more to offer than the simply stunning fight scenes choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping of Iron Monkey, Fist Of Legend and The Matrix fame. The story is rich in human elements, with the mature love of Li and Yu contrasting beautifully with the tempestuous affair between Jen and the outlaw Lo. The passion on both fronts positively sizzles. A film such as this is only as good as its villain and veteran Cheng Pei-pei (in movies since 1964) is wonderful as the wicked witch whose full-tilt performance adds another layer to the welcome pro-femme slant of the story. Chow Yun-Fat, who's appeared in relatively few period pieces, brings a stately control to the heart of the film and former Miss Moomba(!!) Michelle Yeoh handles swordplay and burning desire with equal skill. Perhaps the real discovery is Zhang Ziyi as Jen. Apparently the new muse of Zhang Yimou (she starred in The Road Home) Zhang is a luminous romantic lead and, like Yeoh, more than adept with the instruments of combat. It's hard to fault anything on offer in this splendid entertainment from a master filmmaker who arrows in on the heart while he's thrilling us with the sword."
Richard Kuipers

Email this article

Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

HEAR our interview with Ang Lee

audio excerpts

Read our FEATURE


In the last venerable years of the Qing dynasty (our early 19th century) China is on the brink of change. Wang Du Lu’s four volume novel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, was published in the early 20th century when Chinese readers pined for the days of Taoist values; the book was the forerunner of a popular cultural movement, the wuxia, that chronicled heroic deeds of martial arts heroes in a time of simple but noble human values.


Wu hu zang long

CAST: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Zi Yi, Chang Chen, Lung Sihung, Cheng Pei Pei


PRODUCER: Bill Kong, Hsu Li Kong, Ang Lee

SCRIPT: James Schamus, Wang Hui Ling, Tsai Kuo Jung (based on the novel by Wang Du Lu)


EDITOR: Tim Squyres

MUSIC: Tan Dun



RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes



Mandarin with English subtitles

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col Tristar Home Video

VIDEO RELEASE: July 11, 2001

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020