Movie News

Adrian Wee Can't Rave Enough About CROUCHING TIGER!!

Published at: July 28, 2000, 8:58 a.m. CST by staff

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here. I posted a review yesterday for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON that advised readers to temper their expectations. Now another reader has written in to challenge that perception and say that there's no way we can aim too high in our expectations. Sounds like whatever we see is going to be worth talking about.

I've been following your web-page updates on a daily basis since eons.... Living in South East Asia, ie Singapore the controversial island state, I was never in a position to contribute until now. Most films would be previewed in the West until Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came along.

I have heard about the show's 15 minutes standing ovation, the rave reviews by tough critics from Variety, Times, etc and I waited in quiet anticipation. I must admit to being quite hyped up with anticipation but I tried not to find out anything about the story at all. About 3-4 weeks ago, my patience was rewarded and the show rolled into town.

I bought up one whole row of 15 seats for my colleagues, friends, family and the age range from early 20s to mid 50s (my mum). The night before the show, I drove all round Singapore to deliver the tickets so that no one would be able to delay me by being late for the show; such was my anxiety!

Now, a few of us came from Chinese schools; ie Chinese was taught as a first language and memorising Chinese poetry, idiom, etc were the norm. Naturally, we were very familiar with the volumes of martial art novels and I devoured them passionately during my teens. They were highly addictive and the best was this guy called Jin Yong whose works have been dissected by innumerable academias and modern Chinese literature writers. There were also hours of martial art movies and drama series which stretched into 100s of hour-long episodes which we were weened on. And be it the early 70s one-armed swordsman or Jackie Chan monkeying around with his drunken fist up to Jet Li ushering in a new era of cool with his Wong Fei Hong movies, oh yes, we were all there, soaking it up, lapping it up and wallowing in it.... Then this Crouching Tiger movie comes along.......

Now, I don't know what your other reviewers were expecting but my anticipation was geared to high anxiety and my confidence in an unseen movie resulted in this 15 seat attendance. I am proud to tell you that the show did NOT disappoint - not for a single one of us.

The story is simple but the characters are complex. It started off with Li Mubai (Chow Yun Fatt's character) expressing his wish to retire from the martial arts world and asking Michelle Yeoh's character Shu Lian to deliver his sword to their benefactor in Peking for safekeeping. Now, the sword is at least 400 years old, beautifully crafted but most importantly, light as a feather (I exaggerate a little) and the sharpest known instrument. (This recalls Jin Yong's classic novel of Heavenly Sword & Dragon Sabre - whereby the entire martial arts world was thrown into chaos for the sake of possessing either of these 2 weapons). And then things get complicated.

The sword was delivered but stolen the very same night, probably by the magistrate's daughter, Jen - a pale, fragile-looking young girl, ie the quintessential Chinese doll but armed with an iron will and a don't-f***-with-me attitude underneath it all. That scene when the sword was stolen and Michelle Yeoh gave chase across the moon-lit roofs of Beijing - BEAUTIFUL. It was a piece of moving art which was exciting at the same time. You see both the pursuer and the pursued making their way from one end of the screen to the other, scene after scene after scene, seen from the street below, from a helicopter view on top, my God! I actually felt my heart rate picked up and the sheer beauty and grace of movement of this 2 characters - astounding! And the scene when Michelle Yeoh managed to ground the thief and KEEP her on the ground by hitting her knee, feet, pulling her belt everytime she wanted to jump away - I have NEVER seen better. This scene totally floored me and despite the slow first 10 minutes, I was seriously hooked!

The story developed from there as Michelle Yeoh tried to retrieve the sword discreetly without embarrassing Jen nor her magistrate family. Jen had taken quite a shine to M Yeoh as she lived a somewhat cloistered life and had romantic notions about living in the tempetuous martial arts world which M Yeoh seemed to personify. Thrown into the mix is Jen's governess who had her own sinister motives for teaching Jen martial arts and who turned out to be the killer of Li Mubai's master. All this you will know within the first half an hour.

One can count the number of fighting scenes in uh, TWO hands. But if you are going in purely for that, I'm very sorry for you. Despite saying that, the fight scenes ARE revolutionary as NO show delivers a pursuit scene like the one above and the Bamboo grove fight scene. Towards the end of the show, Jen is pursued by Li Mubai who wants his sword back. She ran into the bamboo forest and poetry in motion was born again. Up and down, in and out, until both of them rest on the ends of two bamboo branches high up in the air. Li Mubai swayed with the gently swaying branch, personifying the type of "qing gong" (- the ability to lighten oneself to leap and run higher and faster) that we drool about in the martial arts novel. The ultimate in print-to-screen translation! This is not counting the kick-ass fight scene between Jen and M Yeoh who went thru a whole arsenal of weapons to counter the stolen deadly sharp sword that Jen wielded. The actress Zhang Ziyi portraying Jen has a ballet & dance background which put her in good steed with the strong yet graceful movement of M Yeoh's kicks and punches. And the MUSIC! For every fight scene, there is a piece of accompanying music that compliments the fight PAR EXCELLENT! The thumping drum beat of the flight across the roof tops of Beijing, the etheral & dreamy music of the Bamboo grove scene, the light & airy flute piece of Jen demolishing a tea-house, the cymbal and base of the multiple weapon fight between Jen & M Yeoh - perfect marriage of sight and sound! Yo Yo Ma delivers with his cello for the sadder moments and yes, the show is an aural feast as well.

I have no idea why this show should receive a review backlash on your website. It is a perfect amalgation of art and martial arts movie. It is groundbreaking in this marriage.

The whole story actually pivots around the magistrate daughter, Jen. She is not what she appears; she's temperamental, impulsive, spoilt yet endearing, strong, intelligent and damn gorgeous! At first, she looks plain, frail; then her appeal grows exponentially as the show progress and she acts as a foil to all the other characters and their own motivation. M Yeoh repeatedly went out of her way to shield her yet fatefully misjudged her intentions. Li Mubai claimed to be taken by her martial art potential and offered even to teach her, yet it was questionable whether it was Jen the student or Jen the lover that he wanted. Long, Jen's lover, gave her up to save his skin; yet in the next breath, he claims he would make something of himself to reclaim her from her parents.... hmmm, ladies do you buy that?

And Jen, what does she want? She runs from a pre-arranged marriage then finds herself trapped by the wilderness and hypocrisy of the martial arts world, by society's expectations, her fears, her love for Long (or is it Li Mubai?). Like a child lost in the woods but unfortunately for everyone, she's loaded and armed with a sword of immense potential and martial arts prowess that lay waste to a few buildings! Sort of like arming a confused high school girl with an AK47 and letting her loose in a bar of lecherous men!

This show is remarkable in that nothing is in black & white. It is after all, an art film as well whereby the audience deduce the character's motivation based on their own personal opinions and perceptions. The director presents the character doing this & that and it is up to us to decide the why and the purpose. Don't go in expecting a 1+1=2 solution; heck, real life is NEVER that cut & dry. Hidden thoughts and motivations are revealed in glimpses by what we do and what we let slip in speech. And this is how the show presents itself. One can watch it purely for the aesthetic and the adrenaline rush of the fight scene but go in also with a thinking mind. This is NOT a brain dead type of movie like Drunken Fist or the One-Armed Swordsman. It is much more than that, a totally different plane and to see it any other way, would be a travesty, leaving both movie-maker and movie-goer mutually dissatisfied.

When the lights came on after the show, one of us was weeping, another one just kept saying "Fantastic! Fantastic!....", others huddled into groups of threes and fours discussing and expounding the show's themes and the character's deeds. My middle age mother made my sis and I bring her to see it AGAIN within FOUR days - she has not done anything of that sort since the Matrix came out. (And no, one cannot say whether the Matrix is better as both shows are TOTALLY different in style, content, presentation - two different worlds altogether. Matrix was mind-blowing, genre-bending & adrenaline pumping but it was NOT an art film. This one is; in disguise to some people.)

So far, I've seen it 4 times and I guess I'll watch it a fifth time this weekend. Writing this review has whet my appetite all over again! Thanks!

Adrian Wee

Readers Talkback

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  • July 28, 2000, 9:08 a.m. CST

    Good Review!

    by Ecaz

    Now, that is a good review! Now, Mort... when did you say it was going to be released? Thats going to be a film to stand in line for! By the way, I'm I first? If not the first, then always the BEST!

  • July 28, 2000, 9:14 a.m. CST

    First? And I'm Excited

    by obifu

    Despite all the crap US movies Chow Yun Fat has made, I am really looking forward to this... Nice review to pump Me up for this... When is the US release?

  • July 28, 2000, 10:32 a.m. CST

    When are they going to release Drunken Master 2 in theaters?

    by GravyAkira

    I have been waiting to watch the best fighting movie ever on the big screen!

  • July 28, 2000, 10:43 a.m. CST

    New Harry Head Cartoon!

    by MZep

    I'm tired of this one!

  • July 28, 2000, 10:59 a.m. CST

    Hi Harry!!!

    by Mr Skitzo

    My fwiend Krstofer Waken came into hospital today and told me he not in Sta Wars Number 2!! You say he was in it, why Harry!!?? I had moe ice cweam and cake today, it was yummy... Bye now....

  • July 28, 2000, 11:14 a.m. CST

    old kung fu TV

    by Confucius

    I grew up watching kung fu serials from HK and I understand where Ang Lee is comming from! Old serials from HK TV had far more influence, concerning the history of Martial Art movies. Usually lasting for over 30 episodes, stories had history, love, battle between good and evil and excellent fantasy kung fu fighting. This is where the history of fighting movies come from NOT for example jackie Chan movies. The only problem is getting hold of them. I know that some serials have re ran on Chinese Satellite channels. Crouching Tiger follows these serials, and has long been over due! something alot of chinese people will understand! Anyone remember "Chore Law Heung" What a hero! lived on a boat with loads of women, a man of morals, but knew had to kick arse and flick needles with pin point accuracy!!

  • July 28, 2000, 11:45 a.m. CST

    wowsers!

    by studio plant

    Whoa! I'm not sure what I should be more excited about: Harry actually posting a well-written review or someone else actually liking films where it isn't all 1 + 1 = 2.

  • July 28, 2000, 11:50 a.m. CST

    The Ice Storm is probably the most beautifully shot movie I've e

    by Valles Marineris

    ...The thought of having Ang Lee bringing his unique aesthetic (sense&) sensibility to a story like this gives me gooseprotruberances (bumps)

  • July 28, 2000, 12:25 p.m. CST

    Nothing Short Of Inserting Raymond Burr Into The Story Will Damp

    by mrbeaks

    This was easily a more perceptive and intelligently written review than the one posted yesterday. Can't wait!

  • July 28, 2000, 12:28 p.m. CST

    I want to see this movie

    by devil0509

    Really there's nothing more to say. I tend to not get around to seeing a movie, even one I am eagerly anticipating, for two or three weeks after it's release. But this one I may be first in line for. What it seems to promise is simply a movie that utilizes martial arts wonderfully, but fully delivers as a movie and story in a way that few martial arts movies have been able to do. Why ANYONE would compare this to Matrix is beyond me...because two movies use martial arts in fight sequences doesn't put them in the same genre. This seems like a romance, a drama, whereas Matrix was a sci-fi/action flick. Whatever. Can't wait is still the bottom line. BTW, just saw X-Men last night, and, I was wrong...it didn't suck. Halle Berry did. And clearly Singer had no idea what to do with Jean Grey and Cyclops. But it was a Wolverine flick and that was enough for me.

  • July 28, 2000, 3:19 p.m. CST

    Excellently written review

    by The Cleaner

    Thank you for writing this review. It just goes to prove Harry's contention that knowing a thing or two about the reviewer's background can really influence how they viewed the movie. While I regret that I don't have the vast background knowledge that this reviewer so obviously has, I do get the impression that this movie has exponential potential to kick ass. If this doesn't get wide release with all the trimmings in North America, I'm gonna be some pissed.

  • July 28, 2000, 4:17 p.m. CST

    A Raymond Burr insertion would be pretty painful I should think

    by Valles Marineris

    LOL

  • July 28, 2000, 9:12 p.m. CST

    Bah, more fanboyish overhyping ;)

    by JavaDevil

    Revolutionary fight scenes? Did we see two different films? The Bamboo tree scene basically consisted of two people flying through the trees. I was afraid reviewers were going to continue to overhype this movie and they are. I'm sorry but CTHD is not the movie everyone wants it to be. The newest thing about this film is that it combines some cool martial arts sequences with competely serious, tragic drama. Put this into the overhyped-by-fanboys category like Rushmore, The Truman Show, and Six-String Samurai. Good but not as good as people want it to be.

  • July 28, 2000, 10:54 p.m. CST

    ridley scotts

    by quamb

  • Crouching tiger sounds unreal... but if you have ever seen the duelest (i think that is what it is called... the one where they duel sword fight heaps) man that film was like a moving painting

  • July 29, 2000, 1:04 a.m. CST

    Pretty Pictures...

    by Alien Gonzales

    Oldies but goldies.David Lean's "Dr Zhivago", gorgeous. And "Lawrence of Arabia", beautiful. Also, Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" and what about Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point"? you can't discount Bertolucci either but I'm always weary of beautifully shot movies which spend more time looking pretty than drawing you into the story. Ooh, how about Kurasawa's "Ran", or John Ford's "The Searchers"?. It's funny what you remember and what jumps out at you,I particularly like one scene from "Curse of the Cat People" (Robert Wise, Gunter Von Fritsch 1944) Where Amy, the little girl is looking out into the garden at the ghost of her father's first wife, Irena (Simone Simon,*1940's sigh*). Ironically, this movie was the lacklustre sequel to Jaque Tourneur's 1942 classic "Cat People" (Tagline: She was marked with the curse of those who slink and court and kill by night!)which featured some of the most inventive and revolutionary camera work ever at that time, and practically set the standard for suggesting the presence of evildoer's and creatures without actually showing them, thus creating oodles of suspense. Phew! I only meant to mention "Zhivago".

  • July 29, 2000, 2:33 a.m. CST

    StormRiders

    by bk81

    Don't know how many non-Chinese people have seen it but StormRiders was pretty cool. Fight scenes weren't the greatest but it really had a good comic book vibe. Not like X-Men. X-Men's fight scenes were pretty boring (might have to do with the fact that the sound stopped working at the end of the movie but hey, I got to use that pass to see Scary Movie so all was not lost)

  • July 29, 2000, 10:10 a.m. CST

    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is ace!

    by wicked_wasabi

    The review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by a friend, Adrian Wee at your website prompted me to write in. For the longest time in Hollywood, there was not a movie that the Chinese community can identity with, nor a culture that the Chinese can lay claim to. That is, till The Movie came along. Finally, all of us who grew up with ancient tales of heroes who fly the sky and tip-toe the waters by well-known authors like Jing Yong and Gu Long have something to look forward to. It was not just the pure anticipation of a hype to be quickly consumed; it was a looooong and patient wait to savour a certain cultural tradition that many of us have grown up with. Yes, it

  • July 31, 2000, 9:14 a.m. CST

    Great Film! Just saw it right after the review

    by giantrobo

    You ever see that snl skit about the sopranos? the one where everyone is reviewing it orgasmically and then it says "uhhh... Ooohh ...AAHhh!" ejaculates kenneth turan of the La times? well everyone was raving about this movie so enthusiastically I just had to see it. Since this is probably the best and most intelligent review I've read so far on this site I was high with anticipation. Not just regular anticipation but Phantom menace anticipation and we all know how crappy that letdown was. Since I live in NY I ran to the local chinese video store and payed 5 bucks for a really pristine bootleg taped-in-the-theater copy that was really good. The quality was amazing for a video taped in the theater, it was almost like second generation tape quality. Don't worry, I will see it 3 times more in the theater when they release it here. It's that good. Too start off, I'll give you an indication of my taste by listing my favorite Hk?action films: Fallen angels, stormriders, Drunken master 2, Fong Sai yuk 2, all the police stories with JC, fist of legend, enter the dragon, Young and dangerous 1-3 and Iron Monkey, face/off,and the Matrix ... I'm not going to get into all of it but I've seen all the Jackie Chan movies ever made, jet Li, john woo and the yuen woo ping choreographed ones. I've seen 80% of the HK movies ever made since 1984-present. So I think I have a pretty good Idea about how to rate content. Now, I said I really liked the Matrix and this movie is chock full of "dodge this!" moments. First of all this is a wire-fu movie. But there is nothing wrong with a wire fu movie, just a bad wire-fu movie (think black mask and you get the idea). This has got to set a new mark in wire-fu as well as choreographed fighting scenes. I know a lot of people said it looks fake and in the first 30 seconds when they take to the air, it does. Then slowly, it sort of transforms itself into looking believable, the way carrie anne moss jumping off the side of the wall looked real. Another thing about this movie is the awesome display of all the classic and ancient chinese weapons and fighting styles, especially in the teahouse scene. Teahouse scene? yes hard-boiled teahouse times ten baby! This movie was absolutely amazing to watch on a crappy ass video bootleg so imagine watching it on the big screen. I could only read every other subtitle of this movie with my inept mandarin so I don't know the entire plot, but I pieced it together from bits of reviews and I can say I loved the ending although a little to abrupt. I do have some questions about the reasons. The story, if you can believe, is sort of akin to Ally Mcbeal with supoernatural martial arts powers. What's a hot chick to do? get maried and be a good wife and woman or fuck that and be the biggest, baddest mofo out there? The lead character is very good, she runs through every emotion in this movie,, from innocent to seductress to comical to vengeful kickasser. She's like edward norton in primal fear just not as a geeky white boy but a hot asian chick. Chow yun puts in his usual Coolness into the mix but I would have to say that Michelle Yeoh is probably the best martial artist out of the bunch. Watch her in the duel with the spear and the hook-type weapon and you'll see what I mean. Sam Jackson winning best fight in a movie for crappy menace 2? sorry. I don't think so, mr. give-me-money lucas. Michelle and Zhang for sure, although the chow yun fat fight in the bamboo trees was also breathtaking, but not for the martial arts more for the "how the hell are they standing on those things and it looks real" and of course the beautiful photography. This movie is based on old chinese tv serials and the style is more like "jiang Hu" set in the martial arts world. It was a time of astounding supernatural forces and Machiavellian intrigue. the story is something like a "wuxia xioshou" or warrior novel of china. Great piece of work and the music was as great as the movie. Yo-yo ma is awesome. This is indeed worthy of praise. Everyone is giving this movie like 15 out of a scale of 10. I'm not going to say it's that good, I think it deserves an 11 and that's still gangbusters in my book. Is this film better than the matrix? yes. why do I say that? cause no one in this movie says "you are the one, neo" every 30 seconds. Everyone should see this movie. I just saw X-men and it was alright only because of wolverine. You know what's funny? it seems every action movie is about kung fu these days. MI:2 when ethan hunt turned to jackie chan or X-men when they become kung foo mutants, it's nice to see the real deal.

  • July 31, 2000, 11:30 p.m. CST

    GREAT NEWS! CTHD WIDE RELEASE ON DEC. 8!

    by ICE747

    Sony has moved this film up to a December 8th, 2000 wide release (rather than "platforming" it from LA/NY first in late December).

  • Aug. 1, 2000, 11:41 p.m. CST

    CTHD OUT ON DVD!

    by ICE747

    YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT! I JUST PICK UP A DVD AT A CHINESE STORE IN TORONTO CHINA TOWN FOR $15! SAW THE MOVIE AND LIKE IT VERY MUCH! NOT A GREAT AS I HOPE FOR BUT FAR BETTER THAN ANY OTHER KUNG FU MOVIES IN MY OPINION! wHY? 'CAUSE IT GOT GREAT STORY! YOU HAVE TO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF IF YOU LIKE IT OR NOT BECASUE MY OPINION WON'T MEAN SHIT UNTIL YOU SEE IT. DON'T EXPECT IT TO BE AN ALL OUT KUNG FU ACTION MOVIE BECAUSE YA GONNA BE DAMN DISAPPOINTED. LAST POINT: I BELIEVED THIS MOVIE IS GONNA BE WIDE RELEASE BUT I DON'T THINK THE AMERICANS WILL ENJOY IT AS MUCH AS THEY DID WITH THE MATRIX. I DON'T THINK THEY'RE READY FOR THIS KIND OF CLASSICAL KUNG FU WITH ALL CHINESE ACTORS. I JUST HOPE PEOPLE WILL WALK INTO THIS MOVIE WITH A FRESH AND OPEN MIND AND NOT TRY TO COMPARE IT WITH OTHERS KUNG FU MOVIES. IT'S A GREAT MOVIE IF YOU DON'T MIND SEEING ASIAN ALL CASTS!

  • Aug. 2, 2000, 2:17 a.m. CST

    I'm sorry...

    by letseatcheese

    ...but chasing after a guy for a friggin comb??? Come on! this film was pap!

  • Nov. 27, 2000, 9:08 p.m. CST

    CTHD

    by Sigar

    This movie is the reason I started to go to the cinema as a kid. It is one of the few instant classics. It is one of the best and the most beautifull film ever. No M.Art film can come close to this. Besides from sporting a brilliant story, this film reinvent martial arts in the movies. Ang Lee does not set the standard he is the standard, with his mouth watering use of sound, colours and motion.