Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Fantastic, majestic, epic. Just incredible.

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My earliest memory of a kung fu movie is as a young boy in San Francisco's Chinatown. The movie had these old guys with long white beards jumping into trees and fighting with swords--one guy had this huge golden scissors that he would snip opponents' weapons in two.

I didn't know it then, but that movie was representative of wuxia--a genre of martial arts film depicting the magician-warrior-monks of ancient Chinese fairy tales:  men who could leap into trees, kill with a touch, and scare the dickens out of a 6-year old boy who couldn't understand a word they were saying (or read the Chinese characters of the subtitles).

A Wuxia Epic for the Western World

Ang Lee's latest film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, takes the wuxia genre and elevates it to art blockbuster status. Big stars (Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and newcomer-about-to-become-a-star, Zhang Ziyi). Artsy director (Ice Storm, Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility). Incredible vistas (Gobi Desert, Beijing's Forbidden City). A swirling, tearjerker plot. And of course, fantastic fight scenes.

Yuen Wo-Ping, fight master of The Matrix and Jackie Chan's Drunken Master, produces fantastic fight scenes beyond anything I've ever seen before in wuxia films. His brother Cheung-Yan did a good job in Charlie's Angels, but this is the Master himself here, and fans won't be disappointed.

The opening fight scene pits Michelle Yeoh's lady enforcer character against a mysterious sword thief, and it's truly amazing. Despite wuxia's usual unbelievable fighting effects, like the wire-enabled walking on walls and multiple corkscrew spins, the movie does show some good martial arts in a focus shot on their foot traps and unbalancing.

Cheng Pei Pei, as the evil assassin Jade Fox, takes on a burly security guard, an undercover cop, and the cop's daughter without breaking a sweat. Cheng, the Michelle Yeoh of the 1960s, can still kick some serious butt.

Then there's the scene where the Luke Skywalker-esque Zhang takes on the local gang of ruffians in a frontier saloon--wrecking the place in the process. Faster than you can say, "My style is better than your style," the beautiful Zhang takes on the whole wild bunch in a fight that's a delight to watch.

My favorite fight scene pits Zhang against Yeoh in the elder woman's courtyard school. Yeoh's character uses just about every kung fu weapon imaginable trying to defeat Zhang's Green Destiny sword, a weapon that emits a mystical light saber hum (and light saber cutting ability) whenever it's used. Hook swords, iron rod, spear, double broadswords, and even a too-heavy kwan dao (pole arm) get their due.

If you're a fan of Chinese weaponry like I am, you'll love this movie. Melon hammers, 9-ring broadswords, double crescent knives--all the stuff that wowed me as a kid are in this movie. There's even a guy who fights with a king-sized abacus.

Yeoh shows off her best stuff in this movie; it reminds you of her big debut in Yes Madam 15 years ago. It must have been hard work, too--Yeoh blew out a knee during the filming, requiring her to get reconstructive surgery back in the U.S.

Chow Yun-Fat holds his own as the master swordsman Li Mu Bai--although not known as a martial arts actor, he trained hard for this role, knowing fightmaster Yuen's tough standards and fellow actor Yeoh's (and 50-something Cheng's) abilities. Still, his presence as the Asian Cary Grant provides a regal, paladin air to his warrior character.

Go watch this movie. It's been just a few hours since I've seen it, and I'm already scheduling when I can go see it again. It's that good.

[By the way, if you know what movie had that guy with the giant golden scissors, post the title in the Martial Arts Forum--I'd love to see the movie again.]

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