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'Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon'
Ang Lee's romantic martial arts
epic sets box-office record, earns
10 Oscar nominations


February 15, 2001
By Franklin Harris

It's the little film that is surprising almost everyone, and this week it's coming to Decatur.

Despite rave reviews and dozens of awards, critics deemed "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's" future bleak. There was no audience for a movie shot in Mandarin with English subtitles, they thought. If there is one thing Americans have demonstrated time and again, it's that they don't like to read their movies.

Zhang Ziyi, left, faces off against Michelle Yeoh.
Photo © Sony Pictures Classics
Zhang Ziyi, left, faces off against Michelle Yeoh.
But in 10 weeks of release, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has set a North American box-office record, grossing more than $60 million, the most ever for a foreign-language movie. On top of that, on Tuesday it picked up 10 Academy Award nominations -- more than any other film except "Gladiator" -- including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

Decatur gets its first glimpse of the movie Friday, when it opens at the Regal River Oaks Cinema 8.

"The film seems to have captured the public imagination," Richard Napper of Columbia TriStar Pictures, one of the companies distributing the movie overseas, told the BBC. "People aren't put off by the subtitles, which is very unusual."

Additionally, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, making it only the third film to snag both that honor and a Best Picture nod.

Oscar-nominated director

Best Director nominee Ang Lee has been Oscar-hunting before. Two of the Taiwanese-born filmmaker's other films, "The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman," garnered foreign-language nominations.

Ang Lee
Ang Lee
Lee, who also directed "Sense and Sensibility," is best known for his dramas and romantic comedies. Before "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the closest thing to an action movie he had made was the underrated Civil War drama "Ride With the Devil," known to most people simply as "That movie with Jewel in it."

But "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is no ordinary action flick.

Yes, the movie does feature some of the best fight sequences ever filmed. They're not so much fights as they are intricately choreographed dances in which the dancers just happen to be trying to kill each other.

And if the high-flying fights seem familiar, that may be because Yuen Wo-Ping, a veteran of Hong Kong's film scene and the guy who put together the fight sequences for "The Matrix," choreographed them.

But unlike those in "The Matrix," the fights in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" rely little on computerized effects. Mostly, Lee uses computers only to erase his actors' safety wires.

When you see actors fighting among the treetops, you really are seeing actors fighting among the treetops.

Like its Hong Kong cousins, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" makes good use of "weightless leaping," sending its combatants flying through the air with unrealistic but satisfying grace.

At the same time, however, Lee brings his Western style of filmmaking to the martial arts genre. Like all of his movies, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is deliberately paced, giving us time to take in the beautiful shots composed by cinematographer Peter Pau, who gives us an eyeful of rolling, green countrysides and haunting dessert wastes.

Familiar cast

Despite the abundant action and gorgeous cinematography, the movie is really about people, so Lee relies on an excellent cast to pull everything together.

His two leads are Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, both familiar faces in the world of Hong Kong action movies.

A veteran of numerous John Woo films, Chow Yun-Fat plays the warrior Li Mu Bai in ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.''
Photo © Sony Pictures Classics
A veteran of numerous John Woo films, Chow Yun-Fat plays the warrior Li Mu Bai in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
Chow is best known for his work with director John Woo ("Mission Impossible 2"), with whom he worked on such films as "Hard Boiled," "The Killer" and "A Better Tomorrow." In America, Chow has starred is such diverse fare as "The Corruptor" and "Anna and the King."

Yeoh, meanwhile, is best known on this side of the Pacific as a Bond girl in "Tomorrow Never Dies." She also appears in Jackie Chan's "Supercop" and stars in the cult favorites "The Heroic Trio" and "The Executioners."

Lee rounds out his cast with newcomers Zhang Ziyi, who recently signed to appear in Chan's "Rush Hour 2," and Chen Chang, who plays a dessert bandit named Lo.

The movie's deceptively simple story revolves around two warriors, Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien (Chow and Yeoh), who have been long-time allies, but whose love for each other has been thwarted by the memory of a dead comrade -- his best friend and her fiancée.

Li Mu Bai longs to give up his warrior ways, but his plans fall to the wayside when his sword, a legendary and near flawless weapon, is stolen by a mysterious girl.

The trail leads to a princess (Zhang) who longs for the freedom of becoming a warrior, and a thief named the Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei).

And, as it happens, the Jade Fox is the woman responsible for killing Li Mu Bai's mentor many years before.

It is a tale of honor, revenge and hopeless love, accented with enough fight scenes to keep even the most demanding kung-fu fans entertained.

At the same time, it is a martial arts movie for people who hate martial arts movies.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" isn't just the best movie of the past year. It's the best movie in years.

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