Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Awed Audience
Ang Lee's sweeping majestic epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (CTHD) has landed like a typhoon in both the box office and the critic's columns.
In terms of Asian cinema breaking into the mainstream, CTHD has come crashing through with armies, fleets and the proverbial kitchen sink. All of a sudden, an Asian foreign language film is not only acceptable in non-artsy Western theaters, but it has set itself as the standard to beat.
When the film was first released last year in China, the news reports gave no idea of what was to come. Maybe Chinese audiences, hardened by decades of wuxia martial arts films from Hong Kong, were not so easily impressed. The film did reasonably well in other parts of Asia, but is was not until the Cannes festival in France did all hell break loose.
The West had grown more accustomed to realistic Jackie Chan, or painfully realistic Chuck Norris-type action. Then, along came Yuen Wo Ping , a martial arts choreographer from China, who showed us how far things had come along in The Matrix.
But this was only a taste. Yuen Wo Ping apparently saved the smorgasbord for CTHD. The action in this film has an artistic quality, not like ballet, but closer to real life. It's almost Taoist, not gory yet sensational and artfully woven into a romantic adventure story.
Behind line after line there are metaphors -- symbolism and mysticism abound. The film is based on a novel by Wang Dulu written before World War II. Like others in its genre, the book revolves around Taoist knights and their outlook on the world.
Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh do great jobs with limited parts, but the real star of this film is young Zhang Ziyi. The dual love stories are classic and they
really set this movie apart from standard martial arts fare. Given Ang Lee's expertise in portraying human relationships in previous work, it is no surprise he turns out a masterpiece here.
The panoramas in this film are really stupendous, almost as if a whole new art form has been created. Indeed, watching CTHD is almost a new experience in cinema, at a time when one would think that the limits had already been reached.
For Asian and Asian American film-makers, this colossus offers inspiration and direction. Not that they all should be looking to add flying martial artists into their storylines, but in the sense that transcending lies from within and not in following trends.
If for no other reason, watch this movie to witness history in film-making.