“‘Dragon’ Slayer”
by Scott Mantz

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Ang Lee

Rebel with a cause! Zhang Ziyi kicks ass in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

As far as movies go, the year 2000 could best be described as “the year of the dragon”–as in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Here’s a film that’s so good–so unique–that even if it had been the only movie to come out over the last 12 months, then it still would have made the whole year worthwhile. Credit director Ang Lee for making a movie that is sure to appeal to the masses in a way not seen since the original “Star Wars” came out in 1977.

In 18th century China, respected warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) has decided to hang up his sword–literally. He gives the 400-year-old Green Dragon to Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) for safe keeping, but it is stolen by Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), a warrior princess-wannabe who is just about to get married into the Chinese aristocracy. After witnessing her impressive skills firsthand, Li Mu Bai offers to take Jen under his wing as his protégé. There’s just one small problem. Jen is under the influence of Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng), a former associate who once killed Li Mu Bai’s master, and she will not rest until the Green Dragon is hers and Li Mu Bai is dead.

Speaking of the aforementioned “Star Wars,” that’s the one film that “Crouching Tiger” most closely resembles. The lightsaber is now a bona-fide sword, the Force has been elevated to include gravity-defying martial arts skills, and the whiny Luke Skywalker has been replaced by one strong-willed, ass-kicking, sexy young princess.

Never mind that the film is subtitled in Mandarin Chinese–after the first five minutes, you won’t know the difference (besides, a foreign film is a foreign film, so who cares what language it’s in). Also, the story is pretty basic, so even if you don’t read the subtitles, you’ll still be able to follow the movie, thanks to its incredible action, jaw-dropping stunts, and delicate performances.

The film blends the good-vs.-evil, mentor-protégé aspect of “Star Wars” with the groundbreaking choreography of “The Matrix,” yet it still maintains a mystical, fairy tale-like quality that’s all it’s own. In fact, one look at “Crouching Tiger,” and you’ll forget all about “The Matrix” (no offense there, Keanu!). While the whole concept of roof-leaping and pond-jumping may seem too unbelievable to accept, once you see it, the movie takes you out of your seat and doesn’t put you back until long after the credits roll.

What sets the film apart from its predecessors is the power of its actual story. The history between Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien makes their undying passion for each other hard to ignore, but time, honor, and tradition has made a more intimate relationship between them all but impossible. Then there is the passion between Jen and Lo (Chen Chang), a desert pirate who once kidnapped her. Despite being from two completely different worlds, Jen must eventually choose between the destiny that’s been planned for her and the one that stirs within her heart.

With one fell swoop, Ang Lee has managed to completely re-define the martial arts genre. Then again, he’s been making his mark with almost every film he’s done over the last few years, including “Sense and Sensibility,” ” The Ice Storm,” and “Ride with the Devil.” With “Crouching Tiger,” Lee stands alongside such maverick and visionary filmmakers as Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher as being one of the best directors around today.

Pitching “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” as a martial arts film doesn’t do it justice. Come to think about it, no simple pitch could. It’s more than just a kung-fu movie–it’s kung-fantasy. It’s a groundbreaking, breathtaking, and romantic period piece that will no doubt stand the test of time. Speaking of time, why are you wasting yours reading this review? Do yourself a favor–believe the hype, see it now, and treat yourself to one of the most enjoyable and memorable moviegoing experiences in years.