Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 

This is the first Ang Lee film I've seen that I've liked without qualification. More important, it's the most exuberant action movie in ages, putting most recent Hollywood blockbusters to shame. The two most significant reasons for this are the choreography of Yuen Wo-ping--who charted out the fights in The Matrix and here does for flying what Esther Williams did for swimming--and the powerhouse cast of Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen. But there's an undeniable lift in watching Zhang, a little girl, wipe out the ruffians who go after her, while the affectionate references to King Hu's The Fate of Lee Khan (among other Hong Kong action touchstones) also add something flavorsome to the brew. Adapted by James Schamus (one of the executive producers), Wang Hui Ling, and Tsai Kuo Jung from Wang Du Lu's novel of the same title, this sincere and magical fairy tale might be self-conscious at times about being Lee's celebratory homecoming movie (his first Asian film since Eat Drink Man Woman), but it still succeeds in putting the same spirited spin on martial arts that Singin' in the Rain did on early Hollywood. 119 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, McClurg Court, Pipers Alley.

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

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