Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a mesmerising martial arts movie. The film, in terms of cinematography and style, tries to capture the mystical quality it imbues on its story and characters.
Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), a Superman-like figure trained by Wudan school of martial arts, returns from meditation deeply disturbed. Not finding the enlightenment he sought, he realises that he needs to avenge the death of his master before he can move on. He is aided by his long-time friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). The two of them are in love with, but have not made their feelings known to, each other. Together, they are pitted against Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei), who killed Li Mu Bai's master and her protege (Zhang Ziye).
Right from the beginning, director Ang Lee shows how this film is going to be different from any of the other martial arts films out there, bringing a new meaning to the term "poetry in motion". When Jade Fox's disciple steals the legendary Green Dragon sword, she is pursued by Yu Shu Lien resulting in a virtuoso rooftop/courtyard martial arts dance. The pursuit of the sword (and a comb, actually) leads to several more spectacular action sequences in the film.
The special effects and stunt work is amazing. The scene involving the fight between Li Mu Bai and Jade Fox's disciple on tree tops seems to have been done using computers (i.e., the images of actors projected on bending trees). It turns out that the actors (mostly) actually did stand on the trees (supported by wires which were removed) and acted in the manner as shown!
It's hard to view some of the material (particularly in terms of dialogue) with a straight-face, but the actors do a fine job of expressing it. The music compliments the martial sequences extremely well. As usual, I found the presence of strong female characters particularly heartening.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon comes off as a comic book fable and has a strong fantasy/Anime quality to it. In the end, however, the film is just a love story, touching upon some interesting issues (freedom, feminism, and the dying comments made by Jade Fox about her student who has learnt more about the Wudan martial arts simply because of her ability to read) but failing to develop them. A great timekiller that should definitely be seen on the big screen.