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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 17:39 GMT
Battle of the blockbusters
Gladiator
Gladiator: Crowd-pleaser
If the Bafta film awards nominations are anything to go by Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are virtually on a par in terms of big-screen enjoyment.

Both have garnered 14 nods from the illustrious Bafta fellows, including those for Best Film and Best Director.

But the average Saturday night cinema-goer could well consider the competition between the two more clear cut - with the balance weighted in Gladiator's favour.

Crouching Tiger
Breath-taking scenery is one of Crouching Tiger's best points

On some levels, Ridley Scott's modern take on the sand-and-sandals epic inhabits the same world as Ang Lee's 19th Century Chinese romance.

Both offer complete escapism for the work-weary punter as each harks back to a golden age of chivalry and courage.

Russell Crowe, as Maximus, battles it out, first in war then in the arena, but always in the name of honour and justice.

His self-sacrifice and conviction in bringing down the pretender to the emperor's throne - played by Joaqun Phoenix - is akin to the traditional beliefs of the noble warriors in Crouching Tiger.

Like Crowe's Maximus, Crouching Tiger's Li Mu Bai, played by Chow Yun-Fat and Yu Shu Lien, played by Michelle Yeoh, have also dedicated their lives to fighting for justice.

Breath-taking

Awe-inspiring scenery is also a staple throughout each movie.

Crouching Tiger takes you on a breath-taking tour of Asia. Gladiator recreates the seat-gripping enormity of the Roman territory and the games arena.

Gladiator
Gladiator revels in basic fighting techniques

It is at this point that the similarities between the two films begin to subside.

Gladiator might use the full power of modern digital technology to take audiences back to Roman times - but it never forgets its mission to offer uncomplicated, old-fashioned thrills.

Russell Crowe and his fellow fighters do hand-to hand, vicious, cave-man combat.

Crouching Tiger, on the other hand, is an eclectic mix of genres and highs and lows.

Yun-Fat and colleagues are eye-balling each other on terra firma one minute while flying up walls and through trees the next.

Crouching Tiger
Supernatural stunts are crucial to Crouching Tiger
Considering the fight scenes were devised by Wo Ping, fight choreographer of The Matrix, the supernatural element of the ancient Chinese movie becomes understandable.

Less clear, however, is Crouching Tiger's weaving and complicated plot. Hidden pasts and forbidden passions collide, as do opposing sets of values.

Piquancy

The love stories in both films bring out a different response from audiences.

Yun-Fat's and Yeoh's characters harbour a long unspoken love that consistently boils beneath the surface.

This adds piquancy but there comes a point when you would be forgiven for wishing they would just get on with it.

Russell Crowe's Maximus is himself tempted by Lucilla, played by Connie Nielsen, but somehow you instinctively understand that - as a gentleman and hero - he could not betray his dead wife.

Timeless

And if there were to be a decider in the competition between these two movies, this last point would tip the balance.

Russell Crowe and Connie Nielsen
Crowe and Nielsen: Simmering attraction

Crouching Tiger is undoubtedly a wonderful, well-acted and clever film but is perhaps just a little too clever to win the vote of the masses.

But Gladiator - despite being built on the ethos of war and fighting - has total cross-audience appeal.

Men can revel in the exhilaration of the battle while women swoon at Russell Crowe's portrayal of the "perfect" man.

Younger audiences will be drawn into the magic of the Roman Empire, like their parents before them.

Older viewers will revel in the rejuvenation of a classic genre which remains a certain crowd-pleaser - more than 40 years after Wyler's Ben Hur brought it to the screen.



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