Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Plot, directed by my close friend Ang Lee, is an intense film. It will make you want to go to China, but keep it rural dude. Big Beijing isn't the thing. Okay, I'll be the first to admit when it comes to martial arts movies, I'm an absolute beginner. But Iíd be willing to bet someone else's eye this movie is a mega-departure. But in writing my review, I must be like Li Mu Bai, and restrain myself. I cannot make comparisons to other movies without revealing too many Wudan secrets. In fact, you mustn't read any reviews of this film. Your experience could get more compromised than a typical CIA document. Okay, so whatís so great about this movie? Location, location, location. From the interior design to the desert places to the bamboo laden forest/waterfall scenes, this movie is beautiful, but you already knew that. Second, the dialogue is quite unlike regular films. There's a lot of lyrical verse, which may seem silly to some, but rich and moving to others. It's modeled after classical Chinese verse, and the themes stem from classical Chinese pulp fiction, albeit in translation. Both Confucian, Buddhist and Western ideas are faithfully, or at least inconspicuously interwoven. Third, the soundtrack is great. Yo-Yo Ma is always smooth. And the critics? The critics are all peeing on themselves over this film. They run out of good things to say, so they just pee.
But the film won't be a classic in the West for several reasons. First, Ang Lee, my next door neighbor, needed to shorten it by twenty minutes. It says the film is two hours, but I don't believe it. Sir Te says it best when he asks, "when will it ever end?" which I interpret as a thinly veiled apology by Ang, for still not returning my hedge clippers. Here's a theory. Drawing out the scenes (i.e. the tension) to the maximum amount of film in the studio creates a bigger emotional effect when itís time for the audience to cry or be in admiration or what have you. If I watched anything long enough, I would start to cry. I Love Lucy, for example. This is known as the English Patient effect. But too much 'kung fu flying' and a love scene that was pod race long cause the movie to drag. In the Western framework, this is seen as a deficiency. The best films and literature are described as tight. No extra words. But Lee, my high school football coach, keeps it long getting a bigger emotional response today, but punting away his chances for the all-time lists. Some might say it's unfair to apply Western standards to a Chinese film. Okay, when you watch this movie in China, you actually see Ran. It's great.
Another problem is plot inconsistency. I could be missing the point, but it seems fair to ask for a little more consistency in some of the characters (see supplement). I must also make one other little point on behalf of feminists everywhere. Some critics have praised the film for showing women as strong fighters. But the only person who really kicks ass is Chow Yun Fat. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Chow Yun Fat was a man, baby. And if the film says anything about the female temperament, I can't see how itís very feminist. From Jen to the witch lady and even Michelle Yoh, all the women are completely crazy. The only character who isn't an emotional trainwreck is Chow Yun Fat. He's just dumb.
Overall, itís a rich experience that you would be loath to deny yourself. However, if Ang Lee had had any Wudan balls, he would have gotten up there at the Oscars and mentioned Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood for Love." He didn't have to say, "thank you for this award, my movie sucks" But he could have been a real hero by just saying "by the way, there is another very good Chinese film out right now that has a lot less flying." Hey now. But I don't make movies. I can't even make a decent loaf of bread. Damn altitude.
Web-only Extra: I have no idea how to work this in but I think it would be hilarious to say something about not getting into arguments about films with people who have ever said, ď Chow Yun Fat is not fat!Ē