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Heroes of the Zeroes: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

by on March 15, 2010

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
Rated PG-13

Often imitated, never equaled, 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” soared because it showcased culture as much as its cutting-edge martial arts. Unfinished business, unspoken passions and unwanted prejudices stood aside unleashed fists (and feet) of fury in a lyrical film that steadily accelerated to a sprint.

For better (“Brokeback Mountain”) or worse (“Hulk”), director Ang Lee never makes just a peg for a genre hole. Here, sisters are kung-fuing it for themselves, raging against expectations of defanged domesticity (Zhang Ziyi’s Jen Yu), repressed emotions (Michelle Yeoh’s Yu Shu Lien) or bitter discrimination (Cheng Pei-Pei’s Jade Fox, the film’s tortured villain).

None is a feminist cipher, though, and all are full-blooded — by turns romantic, nurturing, impulsive, honorable, duplicitous or dangerous — in their quest for love and respect.

Yeoh especially stuns as a stoic businesswoman struggling to move beyond assumed customs to a place of happiness with Chow Yun Fat’s Li Mu Bai, a master warrior. And Ziyi creates comic chaos (a saloon brawl), torrid lust and a scrappy ethos to fiercely claim gender equality.

Although Wo Ping Yuen’s now-iconic fight choreography changes up the grace, agility and movement of these characters’ places per changes in the narrative, it’s still got enough chop-socky cheese to keep it real. After all, Li Mu Bai only fights with his left arm planted at his side, swiftly swinging a legendary sword with his right.

Still, every battle carries a lyricism tying back to how these characters make their teachings and traditions tantamount to true love and self-discovery.