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Swordsmaster Li (Chow Yun-Fat) comes back from meditating, but his
experience has left him remarkably empty, so he decides to give up his
life as swordsman (even if he still has to avenge the death of his master)
& give away his famed Green Destiny Sword to Sir Te (Lung Sihung),
& asks his friend Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to deliver it ... of course
Li & Shu Lien are secretly in love, but since they are both reknowned
heroes of the martial arts world they are unable to consume their love.
Shu Lien has delivered the sword though, it is stolen, & all the clues
lead to the mansion of the Yu family ... but little does anyone know that
the sword was actually stolen by 18-year old Jen (Zhang Ziyi), who is
about to be married of to some government official she doesn't even know
& who has secretly been trained in martial arts by Jade Fox (Cheng
Pei-Pei), who has posed as her gouverness, but is really the woman who has
killed Li's master.
However, Li as well as police officer Tsai (Wang De
Ming), who has been on her trail for years, soon suspect that Jade Fox is
somehow involved with the Yu family & decide to lure her out ... which
does even work, but they are rather surprised when Jen suddenly shows up
(in disguise), fights side by side with Jade Fox, & ultimately the 2
escape, with Jade Fox even killing officer Tsai ...
But how come Jen is
so fascinated by the life of wandering swordsman & the romance she
thinks it might hold ?
About a year back, when she was crossing the
desert with an entourage (she is an aristocrat after all), her treck was
held up by a gang of bandits, & she was kidnapped by their leader Lo,
the Dark Cloud (Chang Chen). Soon though, the two of them became lovers,
& only had to part when her parents' soldiers were getting too close
for comfort & they wanted to avoid confrontation ...
Master Li & Shu Lien want to use Jen (& her upcoming wedding) as
bait for Jade Fox ... but rather unexpectedly theceremony is disturbed by
Lo, who just can't let her get married. Li & Shu Lien manage to get Lo
out of the picture before he can cause a big embarassement & tell him
to wait for Jen in the monastery of Wudan, but then, all of a sudden, Jen
is gone, as she has decided to leave her life (& husband-to-be) behind
her for a life of adventure ... & she causes havoc everywhere she
goes, like taking apart restaurants & defeating & humiliating
every swordsman in sight ...
Ultimately she even fights (& defeats)
Shu Lien, who has always been a friend to her & even defended her
although she has found out that Jen has stolen the Green Destiny Sword
early on. Only Master Li seemst o be her match, & she only escapes
him, when Jade Fox pretty much snatches her in mid ight, to use her as
lure for Li.
In the showdown, Li can ultimately kill Jade Fox, but is
hit by one of her poisoned needles - which Jade Fox actually meant for
Jen, who has held some valuable information from a martial arts manual
back from her, an iliterate - which Jade Fox felt to be the ultimate
Now Jen, having finally seen Jade Fox' true face, changes
allegiances & offers to save Li, whom she had tried to kill only
minutes ago ... But she doesn't manage to produce the antidote in time,
& Li has to die.
In anger, Shu Lien wants to kill Jen, but when Jen
offers no resistance, she instead lets her go to Wudan to be with her
lover Lo, a fate that Shu Lien has always been denied ...
martial arts movies from Asia have been detesed, ridiculed, spat on
by mainstream & arthouse audiences for years, Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon would be the film that would change all that, aminly
because with Ang Lee, it did have a director of quite some reputation in
the West, among the arthouse crowd at least, with Chow Yun-Fat &
Michelle Yeoh it had 2 lead actors who had been in Hollywood-movies (Replacement
Killers & Tomorrow Never Dies, respectively), & it had
the American major studio Columbia behind it ... yet on a story
level, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has remarkably little new or
original to offer, nothing that hadn't been genre-mainstay since at least
the 1970's, which is even reflected in the fact that Jade Fox actress
Cheng Pei-Pei has been one of the leading martial arts-actresses of the
late 1960's/early 1970's (e.g. Come
Drink with Me, The Shadow Whip).
Furthermore it has its fair share of lengthy & cheesy scenes.
film''s saving graces though are the extraordinary action choreography by
Yuen Woo Ping, who, despite having been in the business for a good quarter
of a century, still went out of his way (& continues to do so) to
create something original, never-before-seen, & then there's of course
Zhang Ziyi, by then still at the beginning of her career, who is equally
graceful in action & acting scenes, & who simply dominates every
scene she's in to a point where you can safely forget the rest of the
movie & still love the ride ...