Born and raised in Taiwan, and schooled in the U.S., Ang Lee made his reputation with adult dramas of manners like The Wedding Banquet and Sense and Sensibility. But inside him was a child, a fan of martial-arts novels and movies screaming to get out. The two Lees met and meld in this entrancing blend of Eastern physical grace and Western intensity of performance, of Hong Kong kung-fu directness and British attention to behavioral nuance. The director convened stars of three movie eras — pioneer kung-femme Cheng Pei-pei from the 1960s, Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh from Hong Kong’s glorious ’80s and bright new lights Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen — and set them to battling over a magical sword. When the actors aren’t flying across roofs and balancing on treetops, in fight scenes choreographed by the great Yuen Wo-ping, they are navigating the murkier regions of personal responsibility and unspoken love. Crouching Tiger is a movie of gravity and buoyancy, of high art and higher spirits. It’s contemplative, and it kicks ass.
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