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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee) 2000

    I must say that Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon simply blew me away. I am sometimes easily given to hyperbole, but it's surely the best martial arts film that I've ever seen, and possibly the best action film that I've seen. The film's main character, despite Oscar campaigns that suggest otherwise, is Jen, played by Zhang Ziyi (apparently she's being pushed in the supporting actress category.) If we're to count her as a supporting actress, then her performance is the best in the category I've seen all year. Michelle Yeoh is also electric. Chow Yun Fat is somewhat more sedate, but still terrific. The film did indeed cause several bouts of spontaneous applause during the screening I saw. This is significant, since this is the film's actual release, not a festival audience. New Yorkers might be more open to a foreign film than the average audience, but judging from the audience reaction tonight, the crossover potential is there.

    The graceful 1st action scene comes after a talky (but interesting) first 15 minutes. The way that the film introduces its lack of gravity is so matter-of-fact, and comes after such a matter-of-fact opening, that you
can't help but be bowled over by it. Lee's camera, which had remained static up until this point, suddenly takes off with the actors, floating across the rooftops of Beijing. Lee manages to stir the inner child in us by making us rediscover something as basic as the laws of physics.


    The film simply gets better & better as it goes on. I won't spoil the locales of each scene, but unlike the first fight scene, which served more as spectacle than element of the plot, each further fight scene advances the plot & characterizations. (though the 1st does both, though to a lesser degree.) The direction by Lee makes all the difference. His camera moves with each blow. There is an amazing fluidity in the film that, combined with the
scenery, makes the film easily the most ravishing of the year. It's truly amazing that this film was made with a $15 million budget. The other element of the film that is revolutionary is its treatment of women. Though some might complain a film that shows feminine equality while being set in China is somewhat offensive, the film truly sees men and women as equals. It's protagonist is a woman. Chow Yun Fat's top billing is a marketing tool.

   
The film's ending, without spoiling anything, is completely appropriate, and a bit transcendent, without being predictable...

I could go on, but I will leave you to see it... Do not miss this film. It isn't the start of a new genre, rather it is a reminder of why we go to see genre films to begin with. For all of you that see Hollywood action films like Charlie's Angels or Mission Impossible 2, then bitch about their poor quality, here is the film that you have been waiting for. It should be a shoo-in for many Oscar nominations.

**** Masterpiece

November, 2000

Jeremy Heilman