I suppose I was predisposed to liking this film, being a longtime fan of its stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, as well as its director Lee. I've also long enjoyed the Hong Kong-based fantasy martial arts genre, though I admit that part of its charm has been in its low-budget cheesiness: synth score, low comedy, stock characters, and often baffling storylines. But what energy!
I always wondered when somebody would work within this genre and make a serious, lovely art film out of it. Ang Lee must have asked that question as well, and fortunately for us he is able to answer it with the thrilling Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. You get it all: amazing swordplay, wild acrobatics, illicit - and unspoken - romance, comedy, tragedy, the works. There are even thoughtful statements on traditional expectations for men and women in Chinese culture - no surprise coming from the director of Eat Drink Man Woman and Sense & Sensibility. The central relationship is even a sisterly one, an ambivalent tension between retiring warrior Michelle Yeoh and sexy thief-in-disguise Zhang Ziyi.
The plot has something to do with a missing sword, but it's of little importance in the long run; the story even comes to an abrupt halt right in the middle for a lengthy flashback detailing a wild romance between Zhang Ziyi's character and a rakish bandit. What Crouching Tiger is really about is charismatic performances, a moving love story - two, actually - and some truly amazing, gravity-defying martial arts choreography. (The audience I was with applauded at the end of every fight sequence. Michelle Yeoh kicks ass!) Grand entertainment for one and all. Rush out and see it.