| ||Zhang Zi Yi as Jen
Hard-core fans of Kung Fu flicks will always associate the name Dragon with the late, great, mysteriously ill-fated Bruce Lee who brought the genre to American screens in the '70s with Enter the Dragon and its sequel Return of the Dragon. Now in the kinder, more genteel and politically correct new millennium, karate moviegoers are asked to accept Chow Yun Fat as the new Dragon de jour. "Fat" chance, I say. And thank Buddha that Bruce is not alive to see what's become of his once fierce film heritage.
Directed by Ang Lee (Sense & Sensibility, The Ice Storm), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an ambitious, yet misguided effort to redefine the Kung Fu movie into something mythic and mystical. And worse yet, it's in Chinese with English subtitles. Fans of original karate movie stars like the aforementioned original "Dragon" Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris or even Jackie Chan are advised to avoid Crouching Tiger like a stray cat avoids a Chinese fast-food kitchen. Despite noble intentions, elaborately choreographed fight scenes and a sumptuous soundtrack, the movie has too little believable action, too much operatic story line and an ambiguous ending that makes it a thoroughly unsatisfying feature that is recommended to only the most delusional swords-and-sorcery enthusiast.
At its heart, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a heroic, martial arts romance that takes place "once upon a time" in long ago China. Chow Yun Fat stars with all the charisma of a bowl of cold sesame noodles as world-weary warrior Li Mu Bai who has come to the Yuan Security Compound where he visits with longtime love interest Yui Hsui Lien (Michelle Yeoh). Though Li and Yui have deep feelings for each other, their smoldering passion must never catch flame, because Yui is the widow of Li's best friend and to act on their innermost urges would be, even though the friend is deader than last week's dim sum, an ultimate act of betrayal.
Shortly, Li explains to Hsui Lien that he is tired of the warrior's life and asks her to take his sacred sword, "Green Destiny," with her to Beijing and give it to the honorable and very old, Sir Te (Lung Sihung). Hsui flees with the sword to Sir Te's house and Li heads off to Wudan Mountain where he originally trained as a young warrior and where his original Master was poisoned by the infamous Jade Fox. Li's pledge to avenge his Master's murder is unfortunately the only connection Crouching Tiger has to a mainstream martial arts movie.
Meanwhile, back in Beijing, as instructed, Hsui delivers Green Destiny to Sir Te, where left unguarded (of course) it is stolen faster than you can say sukiyaki. Among the inscrutable suspects in the theft of the Green Destiny is Jen (Zhang Zi Yi), the teenage daughter of Governor Yu. Jen is soon to be wed, yet she's still in love with Lo (played by Chang Chen, who puts in the picture's most charismatic performance). Lo had kidnapped her several years before, only to release her in hopes of returning to capture her heart and her parent's blessing. Shortly before the Green Destiny was stolen, Jen spoke eagerly to Hsui about wanting to live the adventurous life of one devoted to the Giang Hu (martial arts).
Suspect number two in Crouching Tigers overflowing crock-pot of a plot is Jen's grimacing governess (Cheng Pei Pei) who turns out to be none other than the menacing and murderous Jade Fox. If you think all this is tough to follow imagine trying to keep up with it in subtitle form.
Punctuating the scenes are an unbelievable series of ballet-like battles where the combatants literally fly up to and over rooftops while battling with sword and other objects. Yet nary a drop of blood is spilt. The action sequences are so incredibly contrary to the laws of gravity and the story line so confusing that the movie's credibility crashes long before its heroes' stealthy return to earth.
Despite its serious intent and the romantic theme that "a faithful heart makes wishes come true," most audiences will be wishing for a swift and merciful ending to the film and its insufferable somberness. So, in this time of seasonal cheer I say "Ah so, Virginia, there is a Dragon. He lives in our hearts, memories and the Bruce Lee section of your local video store."
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