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.