The One-Line Summary: During the Quing Dynasty, a master swordsman named Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat), who’s own mentor was murdered years before by a woman named Jade Fox who was seeking to learn the elusive skills of the Wudang, decides to abandon his fighting ways and asks his long time friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), a fierce but elegant female warrior to bring his famed Green Destiny sword to Sir Te (Sihung Lung) in Beijing as a gift, though once there, is stolen by a mysterious and talented thief who is connected to Jade Fox, luring Mu Bai into the city where he not only faces his greatest martial arts challenge but confronts his long suppressed feelings of love he has hidden from Shu Lien, which divides his passion for her and the need for revenge.
The Two-Line Blurb: This award winning film, directed by Ang Lee, is ostensibly an action film, but is far more, exploring the dynamics of teachers and students, revenge and most importantly, the sacrifice one makes in pursuing these while passing on any hope for real love. The discipline of the warriors and the magnificent skills each has masks a central passion, and with Mu Bai and Shu Lien, it is an especially dramatic and extremely touching journey of denial and confession that comes when all else has fallen away.
The Three-Line Set-up: The Green Destiny sword is the film’s MacGuffin, the thing that the story hinges on but is not what it is truly about. Its power is unparalleled as seen when the young, talented but unfocused protege of Jade Fox, Jen (Zhang Ziyi) wields it against Shu Lien, destroying every weapon the woman challenges with in one of the film’s most inspired moments, even though it is skill not blades that eventually wins the battle. Beaten but not defeated (spared by Shu Lien’s mercy), Jen escapes into the nearby bamboo forest, pursued by Mu Bai who has witnessed her skills and recognizes that she has been studying the Wundang way.
The Four-Line Moment: High atop the trees, Mu Bain faces the naive Jen, skimming and floating above the bamboo like near weightless birds in a spectacularly graceful dance of swordplay and balance. Mu Bai is clearly the master and only wishes to take the girl as an apprentice, though her misplaced anger and misguided motivations blind her to the opportunity. This elegant scene displays one of the more popular and famous sequences of “Wire Fu,” combing wire work and Kung Fu, giving actors a magical realism in representing their mastery of martial arts skills. Accompanied by Tan Dun’s haunting and breathlessly emotive score, this moment is a sumptuous example of why Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which means a place of unseen masters) is so highly revered and internationally praised.
The Five-Word Review: Lee: More swords less Hulks.