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JavaDevilYouAreMyBeeeyotch With CROUCHING TIGER Warning!!

Published at: July 27, 2000, 7:07 a.m. CST

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here. One of the fall releases I'm most excited about is Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, due in large part to the enthusiastic buzz that's been building since Cannes and since the film opened overseas. But, as with any film getting this kind of word of mouth, there's the possibility that we're overhyping ourselves. Here's one of our regular chatters who's seen the film and thinks that's just exactly what's happening here. JavaDevil... take it away.

Hoy, Harry! This is JavaDevilYouAreMyBeeyotch signing in here. I just caught Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and wanted to send out an early warning. Basically, I'm here to say that the early reviews overhyped this film to hell. I'm not going to rehash the plot for everyone because I assume if they're reading this they already know the basics.

To give a short background about myself so people will know where I'm coming from, I'm a big fan of Chinese films. From the moment I saw Jackie Chan's first hit, Snake In Eagle's Shadow, when I was a kid, I was hooked. I've watched most of Chan's films & Jet Li's stuff, some of Sammo Hung's, a good dose of Chow Yun-Fat's, a few of those HK fantasy movies, and I've recently gotten hooked on Stephen Chow (If his Love On Delivery isn't the funniest martial arts spoof out there, someone please tell me what is!). Now that we're done with the bullshit, let's get to the movie. Keep in mind that I watched the Star Wars Holiday Special before seeing this in order to cleanse my palette:

The good news is that that CTHD is a good film. Well worth seeing so be sure to grab a seat when it comes out in the USA this December. As others have mentioned, it's not a big chop-socky fest like your standard martial arts film because this isn't your standard martial arts film. But unlike what others have said, it's not even much of a romance film either. Sure, it has lovey-dovey stuff in it but you're not going to expect Meg Ryan to pop up and scruntch up her nose at the camera. I'd call this movie a tragic, fantasy martial arts film with romance thrown in here and there for good measure.

The actors all do a fine job. Chow Yun-Fat turns in a solid performance as veteran swordsman Li Mu Bai, who wants to avenge his teacher (it just wouldn't be a traditional martial arts film without the "you killed my teacher" angle). Not surprisingly, he has relatively few fight scenes. That's too bad since his character is obviously the toughest brother in the entire flick. You want to see more of what makes him a bad ass but don't really get to see it. I guess that's one reason why there are other movies in the series planned. Needs more Chow!

Michelle Yeoh probably surprised me the most because I'm not her biggest fan. She plays a mature warrior, Shu Lien. Sort of a mother figure in the movie. I don't believe she's had a role like that before but it works. She has a gentle air of authority that demands respect. Her fights scenes are great, better than anything I've seen from her previously. I've always thought of Yeoh as more of a stunt woman than anything else but she does a good job as an actress and a martial artist in this one. I don't have any complaints about her.

The third main character in the flick and the most central is Jen, played by newcomer Zhang Ziyi. She's the young woman who yearns to get away from her impending marriage to find adventure. Of the characters in the film, this is the one that doesn't quite sit well with me. Zhang does just fine portraying Jen but it's the character herself that bugs me. Her motivations seemed to shift in order to make the movie fit into the tragic mold, mainly towards the end. I don't get why the movie ended on the particular note that it did except to simply make everything even more of tragedy. Maybe things were explained better in the novel the movie was based on but I felt more exposition was needed to clarify why Zhang's character did the things she did. As for Zhang's fight scenes, I've read that she didn't know any martial arts previous to making this film. While it's obvious at times, she has to go toe to toe with Michelle in this movie and generally does a convincing job. But I guess the credit for that goes to Yuen Woo-Ping because, after all, he made Keanu Reeves look like a fighter.

There's also a sizeable chunk in the middle of the movie where Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien disappear and things take a detour to focus on Jen and her search for adventure in the desert. This section of the film is booooooooring and, even worse, the end of the film makes it superfluous. It's there to simply introduce an uninvolving love interest for Jen. The main story was so much more compelling so why bother with this part of the movie if the payoff for it is so underwhelming? Huge error. I would have been happier if they inserted a 20-minute sequence involving a romance between Eddie Deezen and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. Hey, now there's a movie waiting to be made.

Finally, let me address some of the more fanboyish statements made regarding CTHD. Things like "Wow, the martial arts blew me away!" and "This is better than the Matrix!". Yeah, there's neat stuff in here but nothing really new if you've watched other Chinese fantasy movies or much of Jet Li's work. There's obvious wires used to aid the fights and make the performers float and fly through the air. I personally prefer seeing less special effects and more natural talent like you'd see in Jackie Chan's best work. It's like bad CGI for me, it takes me right out of the film. Recent example of this: X-Men. It might be fun in small doses but it's unconvincingly cheesy-looking. One thing that Ang Lee does with the fights that I liked was that he didn't use a lot of quick cuts. Too often during wire-fu scenes, I notice a lot of choppy editing as if they're trying to cover up the fake-looking wires. The worse example I can think of is Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain (imagine Michael Bay doing a Chinese fantasy film). Lee doesn't make that mistake, praise Bob Dobbs, and the fights are better for it. There are 4 main fight sequences and the 2nd Michelle/Zhang one is the most impressive. Just wish there were less flying around.

So, in summary, I like the film but felt it would have been much improved if they put in more Chow Yun-Fat, explain Jen's actions better, did something with that middle sequence, and had less silly flying through the air. I think my criticisms will probably be seen by most people who've watched the film as the nitpicks of a kung-fu fan who wanted more fights and less fantasy and romance so if it makes you feel better, believe that. I just dislike it when people hype yet another upcoming film as the greatest thing ever and it isn't. CTHD is good but not great.

This is JavaDevilYouAreMyBeeyotch heading back out to watch more Gundam.

BTW, Scary Movie sucks.

Readers Talkback

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  • July 27, 2000, 7:13 a.m. CST

    and first again do i win a prize!!!!!

    by wwfmania2000

    this is my favourite website of all time ans wow do you guys kick ass!!can i have a job!!!!

  • July 27, 2000, 7:17 a.m. CST

    ALRIGHT, JAVADEVIL!!

    by ol' painless

    you were saying you hoped Harry would publish this review and now it has happened. Great review, though I do still think that your treatment 'Shaolin vs Lesbian' rocks way harder. I still wanna be 3rd Lesbian on the left.

  • July 27, 2000, 8:29 a.m. CST

    Ok, But Can We Really...

    by Saluki

    ... Trust someone who didn't like the Escaflowne movie? I think NOT!! Hehehe, looking forward to this one in December.

  • This review doesn't help me much - although I understand his opinion, I can't use it as a barometer for my own possible response to this film, mainly because he says something to the effect of: "if only there'd been less of that fake wire stuff..." In a film like this, that kind of statement is just like saying: "Yeah, Star Wars was cool, if only there hadn't been that silly Force stuff..." or "The Legend of King Arthur is pretty okay, with the exception of that silly stuff about the Dragons and that sword in the rock bit..." or "X-Men freakin' rocks, but I could've done without the characters who had silly powers and could fly - or both..." or even "Blair Witch was a pretty good film, except for that stuff about the witch..." - THESE FILMS ARE FANTASIES!!! Why do people never complain about the fantasy elements in the thousands of other genres of films that we see every week - many of which have things just as fantastic if not more than "wire fu", but somehow with Kung Fu the fantastic is off limits? It just doesn't make any sense to me at all. The wire work in these movies is not supposed to "look real". Nobody's trying to fool us by making us think there's martial artists out there who can jump from mountain to mountain, run on telephone lines, and engage in running battles while flying across the sky... We're supposed to go into these movies knowing that it's a fantasy, and that these people can do these things - no different from Magneto flying in X-Men, but again, nobody gripes about that - WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? The filmmakers are not trying to sell us on "realistic" action here; just like they're not trying to make us believe that James Earl Jones can really turn into a snake in Conan the Barbarian - they're presenting us with a fantasy world where the rules are much different, and the creativity can reign free... Stuff like this is only objectionable in a "real" setting, like Romeo Must Die, where the approach is quasi-realistic and then - POP - an obvious wire gag. In that case, it would be like Oscar Schindler suddenly ripping off his shirt and taking on the entire Third Reich with his bare hands at the end of Schindler's List - it's not fitting with the rest of the picture - but having flying characters with fantastic abilities in a movie that's ABOUT FLYING CHARACTERS WITH FANTASTIC ABILITIES - well, that's no different than something like Spiderman... But I guess Spiderman will be better if they leave out that silly wall climbing stuff, right?

  • July 27, 2000, 10:59 a.m. CST

    Learn It! Know It! Accept It!

    by crashpoet

    I agree with Dagan. How respectful is a review when comments such as "if only there'd been less of that fake wire stuff..." appears in it. The mystic of these larger than life heros with fantastic and amazing abilities in kungfu are just an integrated part of Chinese culture and further more-romanticized by modern novel series, tv, movies, etc. Just like how American comics has Spiderman, Superman, etc...over 99% of all Chinese comics deal with heros such as people in this movie.

  • July 27, 2000, 11:50 a.m. CST

    YEOH MAN!!

    by budz420

    "Her fights scenes are great, better than anything I've seen from her previously. I've always thought of Yeoh as more of a stunt woman than anything else but she does a good job as an actress and a martial artist in this one." All I can say is I guess you've never seen Tai-Chi Master OR Wing Chun !!! :-)

  • July 27, 2000, 11:54 a.m. CST

    YES!!! EXCELLENT REVIEW

    by lance

    I've seen CTHD here in Taiwan, and this review is right on. It's a good film, Michelle Yeoh is awesome, but it's definetely not the second coming...and the bamboo tree fight scene is NOT what everyone says it is.

  • July 27, 2000, 1:47 p.m. CST

    rrrrrrrrrrrr

    by studio plant

    This guy doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. I get the impression CTHD was too different for his narrow tastes. And I also suspect the only way to get your CTHD review on Harry's site is to pooh-pooh it a bit. Not a convincing argument--I'm still excited to see it.

  • July 27, 2000, 1:48 p.m. CST

    wake up fellas!

    by CrouchingTran

    I wish we have more objective & smart ppl like Dagan who has to straighten all the pompous asses & their lame ass reviews. C'mon folks, enjoy all the fantasy for what it is...ancient martials arts is no different from any forms of folklore like one-man gladiators, Braveheart's William Wallace, invincible Jedi's and 007's, mutant X-men's...GET THE PICTURE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! IMAGINATION, USE IT.

  • July 27, 2000, 5:57 p.m. CST

    Dagan, are you still promoting that false analogy of yours?

    by JavaDevil

    Heya, Dagan. You might remember me by my old talkback name, neo-era. Like I said before, I like FX better in films when they don't "look fake". You seem to think I'm only singling out Chinese fantasy films for this "I don't care much for wire-fu" stuff when I'm obviously not. Reread my review. I also criticized X-Men for having the fake-looking wire-fu scene between Mystique and Wolverine. I am NOT complaining about the fantasy elements! I'm complaining about the way they look. You say that the wire effects aren't supposed to look real. That's fine. Stop-motion animation isn't supposed to look real either but that doesn't prevent me from calling it cheesy when they use it in a live-action film. This sort of thing isn't so bad when the film has a tongue-in cheek sense of humor. Jet Li's Fong Sai Yuk series (aka The Legend) has a sense of humor through out that makes it easier to accept the wire work. They're saying "Hey, don't take it all seriously. It's all good fun." Xena: Warrior Princess does this, too, and I accept those without much problems. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, on the other hand, is a stark, serious movie for a fantasy film and a tragic one at that. In fact, there's very little fantasy in the film, IMHO. It's not like Storm Riders where you have people shooting beams of magical power at each other. The only thing that really screams out that CTHD is a fantasy is the flying around. Otherwise, it could easily pass for as serious a drama as anything I've seen. So when you have the wires in there, it is VERY jarring and hard not to notice, especially for Western audiences. In Fong Sai Yuk, you can even see the wires that are holding the actors up at some points and you giggle because Fong Sai Yuk isn't a serious film. In CTHD, you can see the wires at points and you just sort of groan because it's in stark contrast to the deadly serious nature of the movie. Thanks for the Stephen Chow recommendations, acidjesus! BTW, I didn't have to bug Harry or Moriarty at all to get this review on here, sillies. I just sent it in and waited. I simply mentioned to my chat mates a few times that it'd be nice to see it printed up and now it is! Woo!

  • July 27, 2000, 8:02 p.m. CST

    Hi Lance!

    by zalasta

    Hi fellow Taiwanese! Should've known by your email that you're in Taiwan (since hinet is the biggest internet provider there,) anyways, I'm so sad that I didn't get a chance to visit this summer so I could watch CTHD, I bet 99% of the people here don't even get what the title means, anyways, lucky you to have seen the movie already, later!

  • July 27, 2000, 10:15 p.m. CST

    Java - nice review, shame about the ending ...

    by Beige Babapapa

    Firstly, great review ...well constructed and obviously heartfelt . However, and I am as guilty of this as the next man, why is everyone flashing their todgers out in a dick measuring contest by explaining that we all have in-depth knowledge of a)HK movies b)martial arts films c)Chinese actors ?? Java, kudos for your experience, but surely the point of this film is that it won't be for just for "us" Kfu Purists, but will break the mould of chop-socky as pre-pubescent eye-candy for Beavis and Butthead-a-likes ?? Shit, my girl hates Kfu (and she's Chinese !!!!) but she came out of this movie in tears, man. That's your measuring stick. IT's like TPM. Die-hards were quick to criticise, but if you looked at the faces of 10 year old kids then you could see the magic. By the feel of your review, you are looking at it to microscopically ...breaking it down waaaayyy too much. Don't look to hard, you might not like what you find. The boring section in the desert, yeah I found it a little slow, but my girl loved it ...and there's the rub ...this film is greater than the sum of its parts ...it's supposed to roll over you like a wave, not punch you in the face. It's subtle. It waits for you to keep beside it at a pace you're comfortable with. I myself felt hooked by the hype, for the first 10 mins I didn't know what "mode" I should be in ...testosterone or mellow. I had personally built this film up too much ...but I soon found my niche and settled in to it. Yeah there's been better fight scenes, better sword play and choreography, better acting maybe ...but not in 1 film. That's why the Matrix hit our conscious nerve. However, I can see where you're coming from, I just think it's a case of not seeing the wood for the trees.

  • July 27, 2000, 10:49 p.m. CST

    OH, SHUT YOUR MOUTH!

    by ICE747

    Who need your opinion? Just because you've watched all Jackie Chan and Jet li's movies doesn't mean your all a sudden an expert! We can't tell by this stupid post! Not enough Chow Yun-Fat in the movie and more of him in the movie will make it better? Maybe you're a big fan of his and pissed off because he did'nt get a bigger role! So shut your mouth and your nonsense opinion! Hey Harry, what with this? Don't post any amateurist posts!

  • July 27, 2000, 11:06 p.m. CST

    Still can't wait to see it

    by devil0509

    That's about all I have to say on this one. See you in the theater.

  • July 27, 2000, 11:37 p.m. CST

    LOL. Is Ice747 Ang Lee in disguise?

    by JavaDevil

    I think some people are a bit quick to judge here. The only reason I listed other Chinese films I was familiar with was so people could understand exactly where I was coming from. It wasn't to say "Oh ho ho! I know sooooooo much more about Hong Kong films than all of you so take that!!" If I wanted to say something childish (and invalid) like that, I would have. Maybe people who have seen more Chinese fantasy films than me will like CTHD. BTW, I know I said it in my review but some people, like Ice747, seem to need to hear it again: I LIKED the movie and said you should go see it. I was harping on the points I thought were weak because I haven't seen anyone else mention them before (which is why I didn't include a plot summary: because other reviewers here have already done it a couple of times). Anyway, it's always fun to read a ranting post by a fanboy. Always full of "SHUT UP", "You don't know what the hell you're talking about!!", and other ad hominem attacks but never anything substantial. Ha ha. If you wanna disagree with me, Ice, try looking at Beige Babapapa's post. There's some points in there I hadn't considered before. Like the idea that the movie isn't so much for hardcore kung-fu folks as it is for a wider, more diverse audience. That might be true. I can see this movie catching the eye of people who aren't normally into Chinese martial arts films. CTHD does pack fine drama & martial arts together in a way I haven't seen before but, like many movies that try to break out of a mold, there's going to be rough edges. That's the way I see it anyhow.

  • July 30, 2000, 1:44 a.m. CST

    Stephen Chow!!

    by twindaggerturkey

    Besides the ones mentioned up there, his recent God of Cookery (great for Iron Chef fans) and The King of Comedy (not to be confused with a Scorsese movie) are pretty great, too.