Flying Too High
Because of the widespread acclaim for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I decided to give this martial arts fairy tale a second viewing. I wanted to see if I missed something. After all, no other Chinese movie ever received ten Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, or surpassed all other foreign language films at the U.S. box office. Unfortunately, except for admiring Michele Yeoh’s performance even more, my original reaction still stands. In my opinion, this fantasy is generally entertaining and beautifully photographed --- but definitely overrated.
First, the good news. Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) projects impressive nobility and strength as the head of a security company in 19th century China. Rising above the material, sometimes literally, Yeoh sails through the film with flying colors in the role of Shu Lien, a courageous woman warrior. Brave as she is, Shu is too frightened to reveal her love for legendary warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat). And Bai has the same problem with his repressed feelings for Shu. "Where emotions are concerned, even great heroes can be idiots," one of their friends explains.
In her exceptional portrayal of Shu Lien, Yeoh combines dynamic action with poignant emotional moments. Gazing tenderly at Yun-Fat in their early scenes together, she gives no hint of her character’s tremendous physical power to follow. Later, when fighting Jen Yu (Zivi Zhang), the protégé of Bai’s evil enemy Jade Fox (Pei Pei Chang), Yeoh displays a sense of discipline lacking in the younger woman. Granted, that’s an important part of the plot --- but Yeoh is clearly the more convincing of the two.
Based on the book by Du Lu Wang, the movie focuses on efforts to recover a famous sword while helping a young girl find herself. With her petite model’s figure and coal-black hair, Zhang is quite photogenic as the impulsive, physically gifted Jen, However, I found her mannerisms too exaggerated, especially in a lengthy flashback showing Jen’s adventure with a sexy outlaw (Chen Chang). Another disappointment is the small part played by Yun-Fat (Anna and the King) in this film. Since most of the battle scenes are between women, this renowned Asian star gets little opportunity to demonstrate his considerable talent as an action hero.
As directed by Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon combines elements of Peter Pan, The Matrix, Star Wars, and another of his Oscar-nominated movies, Sense and Sensibility. Warriors fly through the air, soar across rooftops, and battle with each other from swaying tree branches. They fight like Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, wield swords like Jedi Knights, and fear unrequited love almost as much as the characters in Jane Austen’s novel.
Why didn’t all this excitement knock my socks off? Probably because I prefer more down-to-earth martial arts activities and value overall plot consistency, no matter how farfetched the story. It’s still a puzzle to me why someone who can fly would ride a horse to get help in an emergency, particularly when time is of the essence.
Oh, well --- it’s just a movie. And, on the plus side again, the film’s most memorable line ranks as the greatest love declaration ever uttered on screen. "I’d rather be a ghost floating by your side than enter heaven without you," a wounded warrior tells the object of his affection. Be still my heart! That’s even more romantic than "Here’s looking at you, kid."
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "PG-13" for martial arts violence and some sexuality.)