Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
10 Academy Award Nominations. On every critic's 10 best of 2000 list.
Chosen as Best Picture by various cities' critical boards of national
whatever. Everyone and their mother telling me to go see it.
So fine, I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
And the darn thing isn't even in English!
Ok, truth told, I knew that, and it isn't important. What is important is
that I'm about to get more hate mail than I got when I panned Leo DiCaprio in
Folks, this isn't a great movie. It's a decent movie, yes. A nice day at
the theater. But a masterpiece? A classic? Nope.
So why is it getting so many accolades? Because it SHOULD be great. People
WANT it to be great. It's the first martial arts/fantasy adventure that
geeks can legitimately take dates to. It was directed by Ang Lee. It stars
Michelle Yeoh. Chow Yun Fat. Asian superstars with name recognition and
artistic merit here in the States. This movie is all foreign, all
independent, about as non-Hollywood as you can get. And we want to be able
to say, "See! You can make a great epic adventure outside of Hollywood!"
Here's the plot. Aging hero (Chow Yun Fat) doesn't want to be a warrior
anymore. So he asks aging heroine (Michelle Yeoh) to deliver his magical
sword to a friend. Sword is then stolen by thieving upstart (Zhang Ziyi) and
aging hero and aging heroine come looking for it. Along the way thieving
upstart is taken under the wing of aging heroine, while at the same time
secretly being in league with ancient enemy. And then there's the fact that
aging hero and aging heroine have been in love with each other all their
lives, but unable to show it. And thieving upstart gets a romance with
desert king. And everybody practices this weird form of martial arts that
lets them fly, and there is a lot of fighting.
It's shot like an epic, with wide, beautiful vistas of openness. Big deal-
so was The Postman. It mixes age-old fantasy with a movie storyline about
the struggle between good and evil. Who cares--so did Dungeons and Dragons.
It has a lot of cool battle scenes. As did Battlefield Earth.
Now I'm not saying this movie inhabits the same level of evil as those films;
I'm making a point. Just because a movie wants to be a sweeping epic,
doesn't make it Lawrence of Arabia.
So where does it fall short? Well for one thing, all the amazing floating
fighting scenes just look like actors on wires. Which is exactly what it is.
It looks comically silly instead of awe-inspiringly fantastic. Disney's The
Lion King uses wires more convincingly. (The live musical, not the cartoon.)
And while that shouldn't be a huge problem, so much of the wonder of the
movie is based on these floating fights that it loses a heck of a lot of
punch. The only floating fighting scene that manages to overcome this is an
amazing bit in the trees, and it only manages to overcome the problem because
the trees mask the wire-effect better than in other scenes.
Also, it falls into the trap of thinking it's much more important than it is.
Minor characters are given huge back-stories that drag on and slow the movie
down. Other characters do stupid things, things that make you want to stand
up and yell "Idiot! Don't do that! What are you, mental?"
Frankly, if I hadn't heard anything about the movie, I would have liked it a
lot more. I would have expected less.
The performances from Yeoh, Yun Fat and company are quite good. There are a
few overly vaudevillian moments that look corny, but when the movie gets
serious, everyone is easily up to the challenge. When they fight it's pretty
darned cool, until they rise into the air, legs kicking away randomly like a
beetle trapped on its back. If they just stayed on the ground, the movie
would be 100 times better.
All told, I bequeath Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 3 1/4 Babylons. Because
while it beats the pants off of Ishtar or Supernova, it fails to become the
epic masterpiece it so desperately desires to become. Independent firms
should stick to their period dramas and leave the blockbusters to Hollywood.
Whoa! Is the SMC reinventing himself as "The Controversial SMC"? Doubt it--I'm sure in his next review he'll be happily comparing Left Behind: The Movie
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Directed By: Ang Lee
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Lung Sihung,
Cheng Pei-pei, Li Fazeng, Goa Xian, Hai Yan, Wang Deming, and the
incomparable Li Li.