Crouching Tiger is one of those movies where I know the name well but I really couldn’t tell you what it was about. So it’s nice to finally be able to have checked this one out and it holds up. The fight scenes are on point and the story is good. My only issue is that the film does lose a lot of steam during the desert scenes. That side trip lasted way too long and reminded me of how John Wick 3 destroyed its momentum with a desert adventure as well. Maybe the moral here is if your story is going well then you don’t need to go to the desert. Sometimes that’s the way to go.
The movie starts with Mu Bai retiring from the way of the sword and asking Yu Shu to give away his prized sword to the governor. Unfortunately it is stolen right away by a mysterious warrior. This warrior even manages to escape Yu Shu after a lengthy battle. Suspiciously the governor has a daughter who really claims not to know anything about martial arts but Yu Shu is convinced that this is the culprit. Still she doesn’t want to ruin the young lady’s life by exposing this and tries to get her to return the sword. Meanwhile a hardened killer known as the Jade Fox has reappeared and this fight is personal for Mu Bai because his master was murdered by her.
There’s definitely a lot going on here but one of the real strengths of the film is how it actually spares the time for long fight scenes. We’re not talking a quick 2 minute fight but prolonged action scenes with a good amount of back and forth. For example the fight with Yu Shu and the intruder at the start is surprisingly very long with a ton of good choreography. We really get to see how good Yu Shu’s skills are here as well as the intruder’s. They’re fighting while the intruder is trying to escape so you get to see these shifts in combat. If Yu Shu isn’t careful the intruder will leave and so the situation does favor the villain here because you never know when the situation will be a fight or flee moment.
This movie definitely does use the flying techniques quite a lot. The characters fly over buildings and jump with the power of the Hulk. It may not be realistic but it makes this feel more like an anime adventure so I was 100% on board with this. It makes for a lot of very satisfying battles. It also really shows the gap in ability between the trained ninjas and the average fighters. If you can’t move with tremendous speed and jump over leagues then you’re not going to win the fight. You’ll have no shot at all.
Yu Shu is a really solid heroine. She gets less to do in the first half but the opening was such a great way to introduce her character. You also see her compassionate side in trying to drop hints to make the fighting stop with everyone coming out on top. There is also a sub plot where she likes Mu Bai but the two have a hard time connecting because she had a fiancé who died. So she doesn’t want this to be a rebound which is very honorable and same for him. It’s a nice way to look at things and I think you just have to be satisfied staying as just friends there. You made your choice and it just didn’t turn out well. Ultimately she still looks out for the guy and they have a good dynamic.
Meanwhile Mu Bai may have retired from fighting but he still retains his skills at a really high level. It was impressive seeing him take on all challengers in this film. It’s clear that he was easily the most powerful fighter here and if we discount any cheap shots, nobody was really able to land a hit on him. The closest was the intruder to be sure but even she was no match. This guy absolutely lived up to his rep of being a martial arts master.
For the villains Jade Fox was a bit underwhelming. She is strong when faced against the lower ranking fighters to be sure but can’t hold a candle to Yu Shu, the intruder, or Mu Bai. Regardless she is older so I suppose in her prime things may have been different. She’s a villain through and through to be sure and doesn’t have some kind of sympathetic backstory set up. Her reason for murdering the master made sense and that guy definitely didn’t sound very good but of course any non-villain would have just left. When you go into murder that’s when you step over the line.
The intruder (So I don’t spoil who this is I’ll just keep using this phrase for the mysterious fighter) is a great character. She is a prodigy when it comes to fighting as she didn’t have the best teacher and yet she became one of the strongest in the verse. Her style of fighting is very smooth and it was always impressive to just see her get in on the action and face off against anyone. Not backing down is impressive. I would also say that she’s a big reason as to why I enjoyed the film. In live action you don’t get to see the “I want to fight strong opponents!” character adapted all that often. She felt like she was out of an anime film as someone who just wanted to test her limits and I like that kind of fighting spirit in any character. She also lived up to the hype and didn’t hide behind any characters.
Meanwhile Jen is a nice enough character. She doesn’t really seem thrilled about her arranged marriage and I don’t blame her. That always seemed like a custom that would really lead to disaster. Unfortunately everyone in her circles are used to this so the advice tends to be that she won’t mind eventually. Not great advice if you ask me but Jen had an affair with someone in the desert and now she misses those days. She really beat up Lo (The guy she met) quite a lot but eventually they liked each other. They’re in different stations though and so it was a romance that could never be. Truly tragic…but completely out of place here.
The movie basically pauses the plot for a really long trip down memory lane in the desert. You definitely understand what they are doing here but I felt like this detour was just not needed. Seriously we could have understood the story in a few minutes, this didn’t need to be so long. It’s to build up the romance of course but at the same time I would say it’s still hard to buy because the whole thing is still very quick. She also tried to murder him several times and it’s a bit hard to let that go. I’ll say that the film tried harder to make the romance work than most others but no I wanted to go back to the real action.
Overall, That was really my only issue with the film though. So while the pacing isn’t as great as it could have been, the film still has a whole lot of great things going for it. The action is on point and the characters are good. The fight scenes are really given a lot of focus here and the martial arts can hold their own with any title. There are a variety of different settings for the fights and the visuals at the ending are also really good. This movie was definitely the complete package through and through and I can definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to see an action film with good writing or someone who wants to check out a well thought out drama since the dramatic moments are here as well.