Billed as Sense and Sensibility with kung fu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the wildest and most entertaining films to come down the pike in a long, long time. Ang Lee manages to spin stunning martial arts set pieces around a compelling and believable coming-of-age story. From Seven Samurai to the The Terminator, the key to a really good action movie is not the size of the gun or the variety of objects exploded, but the depth of characters; in Crouching Tiger, the players are given the same fine shading that Lee lent to The Ice Storm and other intimate character pieces. International superstars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh give perhaps the best performances of their careers as a couple bonded by the perils of war and an intense, yet unfulfilled, love. Despite the magnitude of their star power, Chow and Yeoh are all but upstaged by Zhang Ziyi as the impetuous Jen Yu. Gorgeous, graceful, and possessing a near-lethal high kick, she dominates the film. In one show-stopping sequence, this lithe young lass cleans the floor with a room full of thick-necked guys toting blunt weapons. In another she almost takes out a band of Mongol marauders in a wild Gobi Desert melee. There she meets and eventually falls in love with bandit king Lo (Chang Chen). Lee deftly structures much of the film like a Shakespearean romantic comedy -- the fiery passion of Jen and Lo are contrasted with the quieter, deeper love of Li and Shu Lien. The fervid romance of the young couple makes the sense of loss and repression in the older duo all the more poignant. The action is startlingly fresh: Drawn from conventions in popular Chinese Wuxia kung fu literature, the heroes are such masters of martial arts that they literally, and quite believably, fly. The first confrontation between Yeoh and Zhang -- a dizzying chase over the tiled roofs of a rich man's estate, in which the two adversaries literally bounce off the walls and sail over buildings -- simply has to be seen to be believed. Romantic, haunting, and sublimely entertaining, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon should not be missed.
by Jonathan Crow review