Brilliantly merging both exciting action and a gripping emotional narrative, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a must-watch for all campus moviegoers. 

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was originally released in 2000 and was directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee. The film was written by Wang Hui-Ling, James Schamus and Tsai Kuo Jung, and it was based on the Chinese novel of the same name authored by Wang Du Lu.

Set in the Qing dynasty in China, the film opens with the return of Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) to his Wudang martial arts dojo after months of meditation with news of his retirement. He sends his close companion Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to deliver his sword, the Green Destiny, to Sir Te (Sihung Lung), their benefactor in Beijing, as a gift.

While at Sir Te’s place, Yu Shu Lien meets Jen (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of a powerful governor, soon to be married against her will. All seems well until the Green Dynasty is stolen by a masked thief who appears to have connections to Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei), the woman who killed Li Mu Bai’s master.

One of the most striking aspects of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is the fight choreography. Not only does the film’s cast feature a number of immensely talented mainstays of Chinese action cinema like Chow and Yeoh, who have always performed their own stunts, but also impressive newcomers like Zhang. The hand-to-hand combat is unsurprisingly excellent, filled with dozens of precisely timed motions that naturally flow into each other, as is the swordplay, courtesy of choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. 

Every character’s fighting style feels distinct, and the fights themselves are an extension of the characters’ personalities. Li Mu Bai is measured and patient, a master of every technique he uses, whereas Jade Fox’s bitterness is reflected by her own use of poison. This fantastic action is only elevated by gorgeous cinematography, full of sweeping and dynamic camera motions. Fights peppered with a healthy mix of wide shots give the audience a sense of space while close-ups convey impact.

Every action in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” has weight to it, and the audience feels the impact of every punch and kick due to the harmony between the stunts and cinematography. Additionally, the film’s innovative use of wires suspending the actors serve to take the stunts from impressive to superhuman, quite literally. Characters would run diagonally up walls, leap across entire ponds and bounce through bamboo forests with incredible ease. This fusion of hefty, impactful combat and agile, reality-bending physics lends the film’s action a particular result yet to be recreated, feeling like a treat in the sea of special effects-heavy action blockbusters. 

The emotional narrative at the center of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is just as potent as its action. The movie is chock full of characters unable to be their true selves. Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien have long since had feelings for each other but cannot express them because of a commitment to a dead friend. Jen despises her life of luxury and wishes to be a warrior. The characters’ unrequited feelings eat away at them as they struggle to be free.

These feelings are beautifully expressed by the lead performances from Chow and Yeoh, who both play the film as cool and reserved, but are absolutely astounding when a scene calls for it. One of the best exchanges between the two is a scene of Chow and Yeoh sitting together. Chow gently places Yeoh’s hand on his cheek, remarking, “The things we touch have no permanence.”

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a film that calls out to its audience and tells them to act on the here and the now. Though we may spend decades perfecting our craft, we cannot be blindsided by it and must focus on the delicate emotions immediately in front of us. The film’s undercurrents of ferocious passion are reflected in its title. In conclusion, I would give this film an 8/10.

For all fans of high-octane martial arts and for those who love a strong sentimental narrative, I would recommend seeing the new 4K restoration of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center when it arrives on Feb. 17.