3 reasons Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an absolute masterpiece

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains the top martial arts epic based on box office success and critical acclaim.

It isn’t often that the term “life-changing” can be used to describe a movie. Sure we can slap that label on just about any piece of cinematic drivel that lands itself on our screen. But that doesn’t mean there’s any merit to labelling a piece of fiction as such.

Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, however, is a once in a generation film that has managed to stand the test of time. Not only has the film aged magnificently, but it’s also managed to retain its aesthetic, originality, and emotional heft after almost 22 years.

The story follows Li Mu Bai (Chow Yow-Fat), a warrior who retires from a life of martial arts and violence by surrendering his legendary sword Green Destiny. But when the blade is stolen by a rich young girl in pursuit of a life of adventure, Li Mu Bai must abandon his dreams of retirement, to steer the misguided brat to a path of virtue.

Here are three reasons Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an absolute masterpiece.

Chow Yun-Fat at his best

Li Mu Bai is arguably Chow Yow-Fat’s most profound performance.

We all know that Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are at the helm of Chinese cinema as two of the country’s finest stars to grace the world stage. But Chow Yun-Fat has carved out his own legacy as a giant in Chinese cinema in his own right.

The 90s were populated with his John Woo directed action movies, a good deal of which have become classics. But in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon we not only get a different side of Chow Yun-Fat [something outside the gun-wielding, sunglasses and dark suit wearing badass from the 90s], we get a performance that is as poetic as it is emotional and profound.

Chow Yun-Fat plays a soft-spoken, shy, and somewhat awkward martial arts master who is damn-near undefeated, yet struggles to reveal his true feelings to the woman he has loved all his life. Things become even more complicated when Jen Yu [Zhang Ziyi] interrupts his plans to retire from a life of violence and declare his love to Yu Shu Lien [Michelle Yeoh]. The climax of his turmoil unfolds through a character that is perfectly believable and is one of the most striking conclusions you will ever see in a film.

Aesthetic

The beauty of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is multi-tiered. The story comes to life through breathtaking cinematography, courtesy of Director of Photography, Peter Pau. The action scenes are directed to make our journey through the story equally aesthetic, and artistic, and it never feels forced or overly pretentious. The dialogue also adds to this masterful work by allowing silence to rise between characters when it matters most, therefore speaking to the audience with the things that are left unsaid as much as it does with words.

There is that one scene where two of the characters are engaged in a majestic sword dance through dense thickets of bamboo, graced by one of the most ethereal musical scores that could accompany such a scene. While this sounds like some of the most bizarre roleplaying you have ever seen in your life, it’s actually one of the most incredible sequences you will ever see in a film.

And finally…

Once in a generation, literally

The last and perhaps most important reason for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon being an absolute gem, is that a film like this was never made again. We know… you have Hero starring Jet Li, House of Flying Daggers starring Zhang Ziyi, and a few others that have been released since then. They are good films in their own right, notably the Zhang Yimou directed Hero.

However, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon towers over all martial arts epics to this day for a reason. It’s one of Ang Lee’s finest works, and it ticks all the boxes in ways that was never done before, and perhaps won’t be accomplished again in our lifetime.

If you’ve never seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before, now is your chance. This gem has been lying in the library of Netflix Jamaica for some time and is just waiting to be discovered.

If you have watched the film do you agree that it’s the greatest martial arts epic ever created? Or do you believe Jet Li’s Hero holds the title?