Director Ang Lee has certainly filmed an eclectic mix of movies, including an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel (Sense and Sensibility), a look at a bleak 1970s suburbia (The Ice Storm) and a story about a modern, problem-plagued Chinese family (Eat, Drink, Man, Woman).
Now, he has come full circle. Mr. Lee has said that he always wanted to make a movie just like the good old martial-arts films he watched as a child. And he has delivered with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a sweeping epic that harks back to the glory days of the Kung Fu movie.
Crouching Tiger revolves around a sheltered princess (Zhang Ziyi) who wants to be a rebel. So when a female warrior (Michelle Yeoh) comes to town with a famous sword, the princess steals it. The warrior's male counterpart (Chow Yun Fat) is called in to help retrieve it - and avenge his mentor's death in the process.
In the midst of all of this are two stories of unrequited love. The first is between the two warriors. It's a regal and quiet courtship. The second is one of reckless, in-the-moment abandon between the princess and her desert lover, shown in an hour-long flashback.
Finally, a flashback that doesn't make us cringe because of its obvious function to forward the story. This flashback tells us more about what kind of person our main character is.
What I liked most about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is that it has all of the sweep and grandeur of an epic on a scale with films such as Titanic, but it also knows how to let itself go and have some fun. For instance, one female character battles (and defeats!) a whole group of big, fat, drunken men at a tavern. Just because.
It's not a totally serious movie. It's actually just a popcorn flick with a thin story line. It's entertaining fluff. And while I would usually regard a weak story line as a negative, this movie just knows how to make it work. It's not a deep, philosophical meditation. It doesn't have any profound things to say about the state of our culture. It's just there. It's a big, fun entity all to itself.
There's not another film in the marketplace today that will entertain you this much (with the exception of The Emperor's New Groove). Just watch the craftsmanship in the perfect fight sequences, including a scene in which two characters fight while standing atop some bamboo trees. Moments like this make this film well worth seeing.
MPAA RATING: PG-13 for martial-arts violence and some sexuality
CAST: Chow Yun Fat, Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
THE VERDICT: A
Xtreme Teen Board member Brian Jones, 16, is a sophomore at Greenbrier High School.