Lovers and fighters

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

<i>Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,</i> veiled babe with big sword.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, veiled babe with big sword.

Rated 5.0

Last week, I grumbled about the year 2000’s lack of visual creativity, bemoaning the fact that there were few inventive, special-effects films to treasure. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a 2000 holdover that has finally made its way to area screens, is nothing short of groundbreaking and in many ways the year’s most fantastic visual triumph.

No film in 2000 provided sights that dropped my jaw like Crouching Tiger, an epic love story set in 18th-century China, and the best martial arts film ever made. Whenever somebody picks up a sword in this movie, you are treated to some of the most amazing special effects you will ever soak in. Crouching Tiger is groundbreaking in a Star Wars sort of way: It is the high watermark by which all future martial arts films will be judged.

It was a lot of fun to watch some of the superhuman trickery done by warriors in The Matrix, a film that contains some excellent martial arts sequences, even though it isn’t technically a martial arts film. The same choreographer for The Matrix worked on Crouching Tiger, and it is evident in the fluid grace with which the fighters do battle. But while The Matrix relied heavily on computer graphics for help in exaggerating some of Keanu Reeves’ stellar moves, that is not the case with Crouching Tiger.

When warriors in this film go to battle, they fly, climb walls and leap from house to house. The effects are accomplished through camera angles, wires and pure athleticism—without the help of computer trickery. Everything you have heard about the technical achievements of this film is true—they must be seen to believed.

It helps that the actors selected by director Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility) are some of the more physically agile and athletically poetic individuals to ever grace the screen. As a legendary warrior who decides to put down his sword, only to raise it again when an old enemy returns to haunt him, Chow Yun-Fat is perhaps the greatest combination actor and martial arts expert to ever occupy the genre. On the actress front, equal praise goes out to Michelle Yeoh, a technical marvel deserving of Oscar considerations for her turn as Yun-Fat’s partner in war and secret love.

The two are magical and equally credible, whether they are soaring through the skies in mortal combat or confessing their hidden love while sharing a quiet moment indoors. Playing a mysterious warrior plagued with loyalty problems, actress Zhang Ziyi achieves what should be impossible: matching Yun-Fat and Yeoh in her acting prowess and mastery of martial arts. I was not aware of her existence before viewing this film. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting her anytime soon.

One of the more beautiful and clever aspects of Crouching Tiger is that the participants’ mystical capabilities are treated as typical, normal behavior in an otherwise normal world. The characters are very human during their struggles with love and battle, making it all the more wonderfully shocking when they start running up walls and floating about in treetops. Yes, two fighters actually do battle while clinging to swaying trees, and that’s Yun-Fat and Ziyi doing their own seemingly impossible stunt work. That they didn’t break their necks while filming the sequence is mystifying.

So I am humbled. While 2000 didn’t turn out a slew of special-effects masterpieces, it did produce a full-blown, magical classic in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. No words can accurately describe what it has in store for you, so get thee to the theater, and don’t be surprised if it renders you speechless.