Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
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, women rage 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.
Yuen Woo-ping’s now-iconic fight choreography changes up the grace, agility and movement of these characters’ places per changes in the narrative while maintaining Shaw Brothers spectacle of old. 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.