76 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

When this movie was released in the theater, much was made of it, particularly of its visual appeal. It was said to be a masterpiece, compelling, with luscious scenes and magnificent cinematography.

“Goodie,” I thought. “I can’t wait to see it on video.”

Well, it’s here. And I have just finished watching it.

Those of you who have known me or who have been on this list for a while know my feelings about foreign films in general. I usually don’t like to read subtitles, because it detracts from my enjoyment of the film. When I learned that this movie was dubbed, I was more interested, because I did not wish to be distracted from the striking visual scenes.

However, the problem is that the movie’s not terribly good. One major knock against Hollywood films – and a justly earned knock, too – is that more attention is paid to the special effects of a film than to the story. Well, newflash – that knock applies to some foreign-made films as well. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a delight, as long as you don’t pay attention to such trivialities as plot or character development.

Remember those old martial-arts films with Bruce Lee (and even the newer ones with Jackie Chan) that featured hilariously bad dubbing? Those movies were infamous for their dubbing. The tradition continues! That’s one strike against the film. Oh sure, you must be thinking, of course the dubbing doesn’t seem as flawless as it would be if the actors were using their natural voices. That’s to be expected. But it wasn’t that the dubbing didn’t match up with the facial expressionss of the actors, it was that the readings were absolutely soulless. The readings are usually terrible! And when they’re not flat and uninspiring, they’re overly dramatic. If this was a purely American enterprise, people would have hooted at it.

The plot concerns the disappearance of a mystical jade sword, owned by the great warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat). Li decides to give his sword to an old friend, but the sword is soon stolen by a mysterious assassin and her protege. Soon the protege has the sword, Li is fighting everyone in sight, people die, and there’s a lot of mysticism. I might be oversimplifying the plot a little, but considering how needlessly complicated the plot is to begin with, I think I’m doing you all a favor in that regard!

It is certainly true that the action scenes are unbelievable. You’ve all doubtless seen the commercials where one attacker walks up the side of a building. That’s only the first trick to come out of the bag. As a martial arts film, this is a Picasso. But for those of us who prefer mulitlayered movies, ones featuring more than just a smattering of nominal plot devices, this is fingerpainting more suitable for a refrigerator.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: 5

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