Give it a chance. At first glance, that may seem like a strange thing for me to urge of (potential) viewers of a stellar work that - in the words of a TIME magazine writer - "by common consent, scored the one unmistakable triumph at Cannes" this past May. However, never have I ever seen a Chinese language film have to deal with and straddle such incredible hype on the one hand and surely unfair negative criticism on the other. Stranger still is the fact of what may be the most expensive East Asian production ever made - one of a handful funded by a Hollywood studio (Columbia) owned by a Japanese company (Sony) - having majorly excited professional Western film critics who saw it the couple of times it was publicly screened outside of Asia but having left some members of the general audience in Singaporean and other East Asian territories containing substantial Overseas Chinese populations distinctly unimpressed, even angrily disappointed.
To a larger extent than many other movies with which any of its cast and crew has been involved, the two hour long CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON can be said to have something for everyone. Action, drama, comic relief, pathos. Breathtaking scenery (as befits a film that was shot in far-ranging parts of China by a master cinematographer), the kind of traditional interiors and period costumes that look impressive yet "real", and atmospheric music. Two young - and impetuous - lovers (N.B. The main character played by Zhang Ziyi is referred to as Jen in the English subtitles but is actually named Yu Jiao Lung, a name that translates - thanks, Jane! -- as "tender/sweet/charming dragon"; and Chang Chen's lesser character, referred in the English subtitles by his surname (Lo), has a personal name which means "little tiger" in Chinese). A couple of aging heroic figures (Michelle Yeoh is the very capable Yu Shu Lien, Chow Yun-Fat is the legendary Li Mu Bai) who still have much to learn -- not just teach - and may well also be accurately described as (fellow) crouching tigers: Poised to act (but...). A still older generation - of parents and masters but also servants -- whose continuing impact on the lives and decisions of others is undeniable.
What came as a big surprise though was that I would like best the action sequences - particularly the fights that pitted Michelle Yeoh against Zhang Ziyi (and her team of doubles) and the peerless one which takes place in the kind of inn one has seen laid waste to in more than one martial movie (all of which make me want to own a home video copy of the CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON so that I can watch them again and again and again) - of an offering that I had expected to be more strongly dramatic in tone and epic in quality. While purists - and fans of Brigitte Lin's effortless gliding style -- might not like the first chase and physical confrontation, I thought it very nicely established and outlined this film's particular fight (and flight) conventions. Additionally, even the staunchest wire-fu fans should be pleased to learn that bar for the bamboo forest face-off, Yuen Woo-Ping did not go overboard with the wire-work here (in the way that he did in portions of "Tai Chi Master" and "Iron Monkey").