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The best martial arts movies have nothing to do with fighting and everything to do with personal excellence. Their heroes transcend space, gravity, the limitations of the body and the fears of the mind. In a fight scene in a Western movie, it is assumed the fighters hate each other. In a martial arts movie, it's more as if the fighters are joining in a celebration of their powers.
Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is the most exhilarating martial arts movie I have seen. It stirred even the hardened audience at the 8:30 a.m. press screening at Cannes last May. There is a sequence near the beginning of the film involving a chase over rooftops, and as the characters run up the sides of walls and leap impossibly from one house to another, the critics applauded, something they rarely do during a film, and I think they were relating to the sheer physical grace of the scene. It is done so lightly, quickly, easily.
The film stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, veteran martial arts stars who have extraordinary athletic abilities (as Jackie Chan and many of the other stars of the genre also do). Two other key characters are played by Zhang Ziyi (as Jen Yu) and Cheng Pei Pei (as Jade Fox). Long rehearsal and training went into their scenes, but what's unusual about CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is the depth and poetry of the connecting story, which is not just a clothesline for action scenes, but has a moody, romantic and even spiritual nature.
There are those, I know, who will never go to a martial arts movie, just as some people hate Westerns; Jack Warner once told his producers, "Don't make me any more movies where the people write with feathers." But like all ambitious movies, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON transcends its origins and becomes one of a kind. It's glorious, unashamed escapism and surprisingly touching at the same time.— Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com
Fri October 21, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, United States of America; 2000; in Mandarin; 120 min, 35mm
Director: Ang Lee, Screenplay: James Schamus, Author: Du Lu Wang, Screenplay: Wang Hui-Ling, Kuo Jung Tsai, Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-Pei