November 28, 2016

filmsgraded.com:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Grade: 54/100

Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Yun-Fat Chow, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang

What it's about. Set in Medieval China. Yun-Fat Chow isn't getting any younger, so he decides to turn over his sword to easygoing warlord Sir Te (Sihung Lung). It looks like Yun-Fat Chow will get to rekindle his slow-burning romance with Michelle Yeoh, who is also expert at the martial arts. But Sir Te's new sword is stolen by Ziyi Zhang, the hottie young brat of warlord Fa Zeng Li.

Chow and Yeoh track down Zhang to retrieve the sword. Also after Zhang is her bandit ex-boyfriend, Chen Chang, who wants her back. Zhang hangs out with yet another outlaw, Jade Fox (Pei-Pei Cheng). Chow has vowed revenge on Jade Fox, who murdered Chow's master some years ago.

How others will see it. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had two things going for it. It was directed by the highly respected Ang Lee, and it was skillfully promoted. Soon it wrapped up a worldwide gross of 213M, many multiples of its budget. It was strategically released to earn Oscar nominations, and that it did, ten altogether. It became an opportunity for the Academy to demonstrate that it was not ethnocentric, even giving the film the Oscar for Best Score.

Archive.org informs me that on October 3, 2002, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had a user rating of 8.3 out of 10, placing it just ahead of Chinatown and The Maltese Falcon on the imdb.com Top 250 list. The film has slumped, though, over the years and now has a 7.9 rating and has exited that website's Top 250. But the user rating is consistent across all demographics, and the user vote total of 220K is respectable.

Chinese viewers didn't like it because of the accents of the Hong Kong actors. Kung Fu fans didn't like it, because the fight scenes were more like ballet, aside from a one-sided battle in a restaurant made strictly for laughs. But most viewers were impressed by the film's beauty, and found the love story credible between second leads Yun-Fat Chow and Michelle Yeoh.

How I felt about it. Back in the day, I wrote film reviews for the website epinions.com. Us submitters had to come up with titles for the review. My title for this film was Crouching Dog, Hidden Patty. It points out how pretentious the actual title is. (Although a film with a pretentious title can still be good, witness The Unbearable Lightness of Being).

A more accurate, though less amusing, revised title for the present film would be Done With Wires. Because they use a lot of wires in this movie. Or CGI. Or both.

I remember the good old days, when they would simply speed up the film for the Kung Fu fight scenes. Now our celluloid heroes can glide down, and even up, through the air at will. It is like watching a Chinese version of "The Flying Nun", with Sally Field replaced by a teenaged brat.

I understand what director Ang Lee, who previously made at least two stellar films (Eat Drink Man Woman and Sense and Sensibility) is attempting to do. Namely, make a good-looking film. Thus, our leads are beautiful, the cinematography is beautiful, and the costumes are beautiful.

But looks aren't everything, as a star-crossed husband might realize upon receiving his bank statement. If you believe people can fly at will after reading a book, or beat up a much bigger person simply by sticking out their arm a few inches while sitting, without looking, then this movie is for you.

Crouching Tiger, etc. asks an important question. What is the most important quality about a person? Is it their integrity? Or their position? Or their skill as a fighter? The film's answer is unsatisfactory: a beautiful young woman from a prestigious family can practically get away with murder. You can have her. She can't possibly be worth the trouble.