Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

It's obvious from the reviews of this movie that movie critics don't get around much. Of course, their job requires them to write a review of all the major films, so they don't have time to do what I do, which is to look at every film that comes out each week in fast forward. I can do this because I have a different "job" - I have to tell you if there's any flesh in the films, and what kind of film it is, to give you an indication whether you want to see it for yourself.

I suppose I never actually "watch" any films from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but I do watch tons of them in fast forward, because I don't want anything to slip past me, just as I watch softcore sex films, Eastern European SF, French art films, and anything else I can get my hands on.

As I have watched the Hong Kong and Taiwan flicks over the past years, I have made several observations:

  • The photography is spectacularly beautiful, clear, and colorful.
  • The locales are spectacular. Gorges and deserts and teeming cities and ancient temples. Impressive visuals.
  • The architecture is beautiful, and has a unique aesthetic.
  • The fight scenes are awesome, much like the special effects in the Matrix.
  • Women play prominent roles in the combat
  • There are some beautiful stories - romances, really, similar to our tradition of sword-and-sorcery.
  • They often have a good sense of humor.
  • These guys really know how to make movies. Whether they are making period romances or latter day cop flicks or slapstick comedies, there are a lot of good movies coming out of this part of the world.
Generally, I don't much like these movies, even though they impress me. This occurs because I feel that they have the dramatic balance all wrong. The fight scenes go on much too long for my taste. They are basically ballets - magnificent, fast, otherworldly ballets in which the physical laws of the universe have been repealed, but ballets nonetheless, and I've never been a big fan of dance. I fell asleep during "Cats", now and forever, and I can't watch these martial arts scenes without fast forwarding.


There isn't any nudity, but Zhang Zi Yi does an excellent wet t-shirt scene
The other major weakness of the genre is plot exposition. They generally rely on guys standing stiffly and telling each other what has just happened or what is about to happen, so that we know as well. Skipping all this visual plot development allows them more time to choreograph fight scenes down waterfalls, or up mountainsides, or on burning coals, or in knee-deep oatmeal, or whatever.

Back to the subject. "Crouching Tiger" is an excellent film, but is not a breakthrough. It deserves praise, but it was wildly overpraised in a year which delivered too few great movies.

If you never see any Hong Kong movies, you will be very impressed with what they do in "Tiger", because all the things I wrote above apply to this movie as well (except the sense of humor). It has two of the best fight/dance scenes ever filmed, one in the treetops and one on the rooftops and walls of the forbidden city, and it has the usual colorful and epic adventure. But to tell you the truth, in many ways it isn't as  impressive as Once Upon a Time in China (1991). And it has some incredibly stilted dialogue. So when you go to see it, don't expect profundity. It's a thrill ride. (The hardened critics at Cannes were clapping and shouting at the zero gravity fight scenes.)

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen 2.35:1

  • possibly the most beautiful DVD transfer I have ever seen.

  • full-length commentary by Ang Lee.

  • "making of" documentary from Bravo, photo montage, music videos, trailers, interview with Michelle Yeoh

More important, this thrill ride works just like Disney World. You have to wait in line a long time before you get to the fun part. This is a fine genre picture. It is NOT the 14th best picture of all time, as it is currently rated at IMDb. If it had been released in 1999, it wouldn't have been the 14th best picture of the year, but it was 2000, there were not many good pictures, and everyone was looking for a saviour so they didn't have to give the best picture Oscar to "Chicken Run"

If you are already a fan of Jet Li or John Woo's Asian films, or similar films, you'll like it, but you sure won't be surprised. You already know how good these movies can be. And you may be a bit disappointed because all of the customary anarchy and humor is missing, replaced by a poetic self-important mysticism.

If you don't generally like martial arts films, don't let that put you off. You may like this one. In fact, this may be the only martial arts picture in history that can be used as a date movie.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half to four stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 85.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 95% positive reviews overall, and 94% from the top critics.

  • won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Original Musical Score, and best Art Direction. It was nominated for six others.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.8 (14th best of all time), Apollo users disagree with the mass adulation and rate it only 73/100.
  • a box office success - has taken in more than $126 million in the USA alone, and was produced for only $15 million. Was not as popular overseas, with $63 million in gross. (In comparison, Charlie's angels had the same domestic take, but double the foreign)
My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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