Crouching Tiger, hidden dragon is Taiwanese film director Ang Lee's first Chinese-language film in a while. It's set in 19th century China, with just enough western influence to make a westerner feel comfortable.

Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is a Wudan warrior, who decides to hang up his 400-year old jade-decorated sword, and retire from both the practice of law enforcement and the theory of Wudan meditation. He gives his female partner, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), his sword, to bring to Sir Te (Sihung Lung) in Beijing for safe keeping.

That night, the sword is stolen. Meanwhile, governor Yu and his family are staying with Sir Te. Their daughter Jen (Ziyi Zhang) will do anything to escape the marriage her parents have arranged for her. And if that were not enough, there's evidence that Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng), who poisoned Mu Bai's master, is somehow involved.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is very much a martial arts film, and the action sequences are spectacular. The genre is more totally unrealistic than mildly unrealistic; Wudan adepts are capable (to various degrees) of running up walls and even flight. Ang Lee does an excellent job here, and the result is beautiful; there was applause for most of the sequences (I saw it at an open-air screening as part of the Jerusalem Film Festival 2000).

It's also a good movie plot-wise. I do find Ang Lee somewhat melodramatic (although his films aren't as bad as, say Raise the Red Lanterns), but Tiger, Dragon keeps the drama under fairly tight wraps. The film manages to show something of China, at least to someone who's never seen it. And there is fair discussion of the problems of integrating women in a men's world. The film will probably have a fair commercial run, and you should go see it.

The film is very westerner friendly, in spite of being in Mandarin and Cantonese (2 languages which aren't very common in Europe). There's one joke about the aristocratic accent which is impossible to miss. And by now even Keanu Reeves has done Kung Fu action (I believe with the same martial arts director as this film), so this should pose no special difficulties. It also looks very chinese; even the western desert and the camels in it look somehow different (and I saw it on the eastern end of another desert).

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is based on a book by Du Lu Wang.