Not since Sandy Duncan's version of "Peter Pan" has such a cinematic masterpiece been caught on film. Yeah that's right geekboy; I just compared "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to "Peter Pan". Pick your eyeglasses up and listen, it gets better.
One of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, thousands of happy filmboys around the U.S. are wetting their pants, selling their first-born, and dancing naked in the parking lot of your local Cinemark to get in to see the Chinese film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Critics everywhere have heralded it as everything from the greatest kung fu movie of all time to their own personal version of heaven. Critics are generally a loud mouth bunch who are only interested in inflating their ego by making it seem like they are very smart indeed... don't believe it.
Directed by Ang Lee, as a pure action flick, Tiger is a pussycat. First off, ALL of the fighting and stunts are done via wirework. Basically what this means is they stick a wire to a guys belt and pull him up in the air when he jumps to make it look like he is a LOT cooler than he really is. For the uninitiated, go rent The Matrix or some old Hong Kong Kun Fu movies to see some good example of how this can be really cool.
Crouching Tiger is a really good example of how it can be TERRIBLE. All the characters in this film can apparently levitate. There is no apparent reason for it except to say that they like doing it and someone thought it might be cool. The truth is, that this is a film based on deeply routed chinese legend in which the characters have supernatural powers, but you of course have no way to know this, and should not be expected to. This film presents itself as a period piece set in ancient China, so one can only assume that the Ancient Chinese had more powerful ginseng back then than they do now. Wirework is used to accomplish it, and through its use players are made to dance through the air, leap across roof tops, levitate their bodies, and dance on the tops of trees.
Put aside for the moment that these are supposed to be ancient warriors, NOT super-heroes and just pretend that there is some explanation for these abilities. Even assuming that this is "normal" behavior... it looks like crap. Heck, every one of these moves looks EXACTLY like what it is, it looks like the guy has a wire strapped to his belt and some idiot is off camera with a crane or something pulling him up in the air. In no way does it look real, and a large majority of the audience in the theatre where I saw CTHD spent a great deal of time laughing at it. If you've ever seen Sandy Duncan's live action version of Peter Pan, you have seen wire work every bit as good as this. The only difference is in Crouching Tiger you can't see the wire.
Fighting conducted on the ground without silly airborne maneuvers however is well choreographed and fast paced. But at best all I can say is its not bad. But its not spectacular either. If you've seen Jackie Chan's The Legend of Drunken Master you have scene fights light-years beyond these. Heck, if you've seen the Matrix you've seen more interesting stuff. Even Mission Impossible 2, as much as I despise it, had better moves than this. At best its average, but its not the stuff Kung Fu dreams are made out of.
As a drama/romance film, Crouching Tiger is and well done. At first the plot is confusing and a bit muddled, with lots of unknown characters running around saying things like "Jade Fox? She killed my Master!" and "Li Mu Bai! The great master swordsman and weilder of the Jade Destiny?" and so on. And of course about half way through the movie there is the 20-minute flashback, which goes on for so long that you forget why the damn thing flashed back to begin with. But after the flashback it starts to come together and all the clichΥ "you killed my (insert friend or relation here)" starts to stick together to form a couple of distinct and interesting story lines tied together by a few common threads.
Overall, I'd say America's critics should be ashamed. I think the problem is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a Chinese fairytale that someone decided to package together as a serious action/romance flick, except they forgot to clue the audience in, and instead end up trying to convince us that its some sort of period piece. However, even that would have been forgiveable had Ang Lee even managed to provide us with some decent action for us uninitiated Americans to sink into. Instead we got Kung Fu Peter Pan.
DVD Edition Details:
Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, Dolby
Commentary by Ang Lee and James Schamus
The Making of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Conversation with Michelle Yeoh Featurette
Music Videos - CoCo Lee "A Love Before Time" - two versions
(Mandarin and English) Photo Montage
Link to website
Widescreen anamorphic format
Reviewed By: Joshua Tyler