Move over Jackie Chan. Step aside Batman and Robin.
Shift gears, Superman. Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon" splashes across the big screen like no other martial
arts movie you've ever seen, utilizing that filmmaker's
feminist vision to portray three women as fighters so
formidable that Rambo would have considerable difficulty
indeed should he ever incur their enmity. "Crouching Tiger,"
selected as the closing pic by the New York Film Festival,
has the kind of comic-book melodramatic action that could
draw the youngsters into its PG-13 life if only they could
overcome their suspicion of foreign-language fare. The
subtitles are clear, however, and the story serves as a pretext
for the most dramatic action sequences filmed this year--
surpassing the progression of mayhem in "The Matrix."
The story, which is adapted from Wang Du Lu's novel by
James Schamus, Wang Hui Ling and Tsai Kuo Jung, takes
us not so far back (the early 1800's) but we might be looking
at the world of the medieval Chinese dynasties where
warlords ruled over their fiefs and skirmishes were so
common that if you said "nee how ma" the wrong way you
were likely to lose your head. Two couples are in love. Li
Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh)
have powerful feelings for each other (why not? They're both
masters of the martial arts who could give the neighbors
something to talk about if they ever got into a heated
argument. Li is retiring to devote his life to contemplation.
(Don't worry: he comes out of withdrawal soon enough.) To
signify his sincerity he hands over his sword, Green Destiny,
to the physically adept, acrobatic Yu, willing to stop seeking
vengeance against Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) who had killed
his master. In Peking, Yu runs into the youthful Jen (Zhang
Ziyi), about to suffer a forced marriage while envying the
freedom enjoyed Yu. When the priceless sword is stolen, the
Tarzan has nothing on the martial artists in Ang Lee's
picture, and what's more the most daring and successful
fighters are of the so-called weaker sex, their prowess even
more remarkable when you consider that Yu and Jade Fox
are meant to be well over the age of 35. In the most
elaborate and even hilarious aerial ballet, young Jen takes on
a band of uncouth men who might have come out of the
Teutonic beasts who fought the Romans in "The Gladiator."
She calmly drinks tea on the upper level of a ramshackle
restaurant and, when approached by one "Iron Hand," she
tosses him over the rail with one arm while still concentrating
on her cup. In short order the entire establishment is gutted.
Kick, pow, sock, bam.
Ang Lee takes us out of the big city of Peking for long
stretches of Chinese desert in which (as Jen's flashback
reveals) a 19th century Lawrence of Arabia, the bold
equestrian bandit Lo (Chang Chen), alternately fights with
Jen and makes love to her. A chase on horseback across
the sands of Western China easily put the old American
cowboy sequences into the dust.
The flights through the air are nothing short of spectacular,
making us wonder whether the characters in this tale are
more the stuff of legend than breathing, fighting and loving
human beings. While Chow Yun-fat allows himself a
relatively small role in the movie that features his name in the
star's box, Zhang Ziyi's portrayal of the petite but
superhuman fierce Jen is the show-stealer. Yo Yo Ma's cello
punctuates the action along with a steady percussion in a
movie which ups the ante and might just Jackie Chan green
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten