Feb 12 2010
Wo hu cang long [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon] (2000)
Genre: Wuxia/Historical Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Romance
Does the term “martial arts film” make you cringe and think of badly dubbed “Kung Fu” movies. If that’s kept you from trying this film, then rethink. This is a gorgeous film – on so many levels. There is so much to it beyond the basic surface plot – not that that isn’t interesting – but it’s a film I think people could study and watch many times and still find new things to think about.
Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is sending his sword, The Green Destiny, to an old friend Sir Te (Lung Sihung) in an effort to free himself of what he feels is holding him back from reaching spiritual fulfillment. He entrusts the sword to Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) who runs a security company. She takes it to Beijing and finds that Sir Te is hosting the Yu family whose aristocratic daughter Jen (Zhang Ziyi) is about to be married. The sword is stolen that night. Now Li and Shu Lien must retrieve the weapon and avenge Li’s old Wudan master who was killed by a criminal known as Jade Fox. But what does Jen have to do with all this and how will she affect everyone in the story?
The actual plot is more complicated than this but it’s hard to boil it down to a brief summary and not give every thing away. And I think the first time you see this, you just need to sit there and watch it. Then watch it a few more times to catch more and more things about it. Then read what people have to say about the deeper meanings and philosophical aspects of what’s going on. Or not, if you just want to enjoy the visual beauty of the film.
The martial arts scenes are stunning even without the wire work that, no pun intended, elevates them to a whole new level. Watch the characters dazzle you with the conventional moves then soar to the rooftops, or treetops – when it moves to a bamboo forest. Jen even manages to almost destroy a restaurant when she tangles with a group of men determined to teach her a lesson.
And don’t miss the desolate beauty of the Western province where Jen’s romantic past comes to light. Or the waterfall over which Li throws the Green Destiny after the fight in the forest. Or the breathtaking mountain from which Jen meets her destiny. Or the colorful spectacle of the wedding. The entire film is a visual treat.
And don’t let any dislike of subtitles turn you off. The film can also be watched dubbed and I think that whoever was in charge did a great job of capturing the emotions the actors are portraying. No wooden voices here. The music is also fantasic, backing up the action without taking over.
“Wo hu cang long” has also served as a gateway to me to other Asian films including “House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero,” “Happy Times,” and “In the Mood for Love.” I’m salivating to get my hands on “Chi Bi.”
Revenge, love, longing, desire to break out of a conventional life, exploration of the roles of women, kickass action sequences, philosophical meanings of life and choices – the film has got them all.