He (Chow Yun-Fat) loves her (Michelle Yeoh); she loves him, but they cannot be together until the fabled jade sword has been returned to its rightful owner. This they seek to do, hindered by an assassin and a mystery figure whose martial arts abilities rival their own.
All that plot business is entirely secondary to the working of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon though. It has just enough connective tissue to lead from one breathtaking display of martial arts magic to the next. It was the film of 2000, taking the most autistically male of movie genres, the martial arts epic, and broadening its appeal by adding a balletic twist. By a similar sleight of hand director Ang Lee also took the chickest of chick-flick romances and added a thriller chase. Both elements of a date-movie night out now satisfied, Lee then complicated things still further by filming most of the martial arts fights in near darkness, whereas the more usually moody love stuff was shot in blistering sunshine – out in the desert in fact. Which is where the porcelain beauty of Zhang Ziyi comes to the fore, in scenes with outlaw lover Chang Chen. If you have not seen it, then you have truly missed out – but there will be plenty of people who will envy the fact that you are still yet to witness the occasion when our combatants in love and life first leave the ground and run up the walls onto the roof, where one of the most beautifully choreographed fights (arranged by the Matrix’s Yuen Woo-Ping) plays out, to astonishing effect. Breathtaking, beautiful, tender, tough and magical, Crouching Tiger is all the more remarkable when you consider that it’s not even made by a martial arts director. Lee’s previous film was an undervalued western, Ride with the Devil. His next was an undervalued comic-book adaptation, Hulk.
© Steve Morrissey 2013