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Friday, 5 January, 2001, 14:37 GMT
Ang Lee's Tiger roars on
Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Chow Yun-Fat comes into conflict with Zhang Ziya
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

As the man behind acclaimed movies Sense and Sensibility and Ice Storm, Taiwanese director Ang Lee is no stranger to praise.

Yet his latest venture Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has taken even his keenest fans by surprise.

The Mandarin-speaking martial arts epic is a departure from Lee's subtle social dramas. It is also his first Chinese-language movie for six years.


I see this film as Sense and Sensibility with martial arts

Ang Lee

It was the hottest ticket last year at the Cannes and London film festivals and in Taiwan.

In February, it won four coveted Bafta awards - the UK equivalent to the US Academy Awards. And now it is the second strongest contender, after Gladiator, in the contest to scoop the most Oscars at the end of March.

Set in 19th Century Beijing, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an eclectic mix. On one hand, it is a poignant romantic saga. On the other, it represents a conflict of new order versus convention.

Rebel lovers Jen and Lo in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Rebel lovers Jen and Lo

Added to that, the film is a dazzling display of gravity-defying martial arts and breath-taking Asian scenery.

As such, much of the secret of the film's success can be attributed to its audacious blend of genres and East meets West influences.

Lee - whose other credits include The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman - affirms that Crouching Tiger is a melting pot of his previous ideas.

"At the core, my movies are a lot alike and I see this film as Sense and Sensibility with martial arts," he says.

More Lee films
Ride With the Devil - 1991
Ice Storm - 1997
Sense and Sensibility - 1995
Eat Drink Man Woman - 1994
The Wedding Banquet - 1993
Pushing Hands

"There's a 'sensibility', a passionate, frantic force; If you go overboard it can be destructive. Then, there is 'sense' - restraint, social code, obedience, repression.

"My films always seem to be about how these conflicts resolve themselves."

At the centre of the movie are the noble warriors Li Mu Bai, played by Chow Yun-Fat who starred in Anna and the King, and Yu Shu Lien, played by Michelle Yeoh, from Tomorrow Never Dies.

Both have dedicated their lives to fighting for the justice of their people. Consequently, they have hidden their mutual love and forsaken personal fulfilment.

Li and Yu in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Li and Yu are part of a world of rigid convention

When Li's sacred sword Green Destiny is stolen, he and Yu become embroiled with their direct antithesis - the reckless and rebellious lovers Jen and Lo, played by Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen.

As their two worlds and passions collide, the ensuing battle questions and threatens the old order.

Supernatural

Despite its subtitles and far flung locations, Western audiences will recognise classic Jane Austen fare in Zhang's resistance to her arranged marriage.


I had fantasies about things I wanted to try to do with the martial arts format - it's a fictional world with a law of its own

Ang Lee

And although Li and Yu are liberated by their discipline, they are romantically constrained by custom.

But, the greatest appeal of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has to be its visually wondrous fight scenes and aerial choreography.

The characters are members of an elite warrior class, which means they can pull off supernatural stunts.

These are the kind of feats Hollywood spends fortunes to achieve in high-tech settings.

Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Michelle Yeoh as the fearless Yu

But here, despite the involvement of Yuen Wo Ping, fight choreographer of The Matrix, most of the sequences were achieved at a fraction of the cost, using a system of wires and pulleys.

Lee has lived in the US since 1978 but making a martial arts movie has been a long-held dream. He, like most Chinese, grew up surrounded by martial arts culture.

"Martial arts have always been one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Chinese history - from pulp fiction to films," he explained.

"I had fantasies about things I wanted to try to do with the martial arts format - it's a fictional world with a law of its own."

Courage

Virtually everything about the film is ambitious. With a budget of $12m, it is the most expensive Chinese film made to date - though small by Hollywood standards.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Stunning scenery is a highlight of the movie

The six-month production took the cast on an expedition across the Asian continent from Beijing to south of Shanghai, to locations in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

But evidence suggests that Lee's dedication is paying off, as he reaps the rewards of the annual prize-giving season.

Lee plays down his movie's Oscar chances. But, he concludes, if people enjoy his film it is because he had the courage to follow his ideals.

"There is a tendency to look down on martial arts. But as I was doing it, there was no escape: I had to bring in drama, women, beauty - whatever I felt added quality.

"And in this way, I hope, people will see that it has truly become an Ang Lee movie."



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31 Oct 00 | Entertainment
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