There are those of you out there who don’t believe that people can fly. You take in that first action sequence — when Jen (Zhang Ziyi) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) swoop up the quiet nighttime walls of Sir Te’s compound, duking it out like airborne wuxia ballerinas — and you snort in disbelief. How childish it all must seem to you.
Well, yes, exactly. This is the movie — long, long awaited by many, many moviegoers — to rekindle that child’s sense of wonder that Hollywood has long forgotten. The scope is epic, the characters archetypal, the pace alternately blistering and profound. Best of all, in director Ang Lee’s gentle hands, Crouching Tiger entwines so many disparate strands of storytelling — it’s a love story, a teen-rebel flick, an action extravaganza, a period film, a Taoist meditation, a Western — that it’s like discovering Arabian Nights compressed into one 2-hour Borgesian cube.
What else does this movie pull off? What doesn’t it? It’s the first real cinematic fusion of East and West, merging Hollywood classicism with Hong Kong kinesis. It brings Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat out of the action ghetto and onto the global stage. In Zhang, it has a young star of astonishing charisma and beauty. It reintroduces the pleasures of the long, leisurely flashback. And on the business end, it’s another paradox: a triumph of carefully planned word-of-mouth marketing.
All right, people can’t fly. If that’s the only thing that keeps you from buying into Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, we respectfully suggest a tune-up for your suspension of disbelief. And, yes, Academy voters may decide that subtitles make the film too foreign to be called Best Picture. They’d better get over it. This is what movies will look like in the 21st century — if we’re lucky.