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'Crouching Tiger' springs into living rooms

photo
[Photo: Sony Pictures Classics]
Zhang Ziyi, left, who portrays the daughter of the province ruler, battles Li, played by Michelle Yeoh, in Ang Lee’s hit film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, now in video release.

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001


NEW RELEASE

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

(PG-13) Director Ang Lee opened Western eyes to an exuberant mix of myth and martial arts that has been popular in Asian cinema for years.

Chow Yun-Fat plays Li Mu Bai, a warrior whose mystical sword is stolen by the spunky daughter (Zhang Ziyi) of the province ruler. Another warrior with a stoic crush on Li (Michelle Yeoh) attempts to retrieve the sword and find romance. Winner of four Academy Awards including best foreign-language film, musical score, art direction and cinematography.

First impressions: "Amazement is a commodity hard to find at the movies these days . . . Ang Lee does it with his glorious martial arts myth, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon . . .

"Lee's nimble way with human nature gilded such fine English-language films as Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm, after his touching Taiwanese "father trilogy" earned U.S. attention. Similar emotions and images surface again in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as if Lee poured everything he has learned into this project. Every kick in the gut is accompanied by something for the heart . . .

"(The film) evolves like a lovingly drawn comic book, panel by panel, with economic timing. The only part approaching sluggishness is the introduction, although Lee's care with his characters pays off later. Twenty minutes into the film, a fight sequence erupts and the movie never looks back . . . It's a show-stopper, customarily greeted with applause and a collective sigh of wonderment."

Second thoughts: One of the 10 best films of 2000. Subtitles shouldn't stop viewers from experiencing this movie.

Rental audience: Action fans and romantics who cope with them; Asian-film buffs.

Rent it if you enjoy . . . the notion of blending Doctor Zhivago, Enter the Dragon and Peter Pan into one glorious piece of entertainment.

DVD

New and noteworthy for digital players

New respect for Oliver Stone's 'Salvador'

Salvador (special edition)

One of the great unappreciated films of the 1980s is Oliver Stone's Salvador, a grisly, gonzo rant against U.S. support of El Salvador's right-wing dictatorship in that decade. Platoon was also released in 1986, overshadowing Salvador, a more incendiary drama too tough for studio comfort with a wide release.

Enough Oscar voters saw the movie to nominate James Woods' cagey portrayal of real-life photojournalist Richard Boyle, a sleazy, self-absorbed type doing his job documenting the slaughter of civilians branded as Communists. But something makes this unfeeling heel begin to care more than he ever expected about what he's covering.

Stone crams as many atrocities into Salvador as possible, from corpse dumping grounds to the rape and murder of Catholic nuns, based on true events that shifted U.S. policy. Boyle is there to capture it all on film, irreverent and devious until a conscience is born.

Salvador contains the usual Stone complaints about U.S. political intrusions and cover-ups. Yet, there's an urgency to his writing and direction, now missing, that makes the slanted tone bearable. He shot the movie like those guerrillas held in high esteem, on a tight 42-day schedule in Mexico before authorities booted them out of the country.

DVD technology allows Stone to revisit those feelings on a typically self-serving audio commentary track. His conversation rambles with poetic political background and fairly interesting insight on the logistics of filming such a hot-button story while the world was according to Ronald Reagan.

Stone doesn't tinker with the original film by adding more footage, as he did with DVD versions of JFK and Nixon. However, deleted or extended scenes that don't add much to the film are available along with a gallery of 46 on-set photographs.

Better than Stone's alternate track is Into the Valley of Death, a 1-hour documentary on the making of Salvador. The filmmaker, Woods and co-star Jim Belushi discuss creative tension and working conditions that often violated safety and Screen Actors Guild rules.

For credibility's sake, former U.S. ambassador Robert White recalls the events inspiring Salvador, agreeing with Stone's outlook that America was backing the bad guys. The real Boyle is also included, seldom in flattering fashion. Woods' slimy portrayal may be a compliment.

REWIND

Videos worth another look

D-Day movies run the emotional gamut

Wednesday marked the 57th anniversary of Allied forces invading France, effectively beginning the final stages of World War II. D-Day lives in the memories of survivors and in various forms on home video.

Some filmmakers have used D-Day as a prop for other dramatic ideas. Others, most recently Steven Spielberg, presented a grunt's-eye view of the amphibious-and-air assault. Every day can be Memorial Day, just by popping these selections into your player:

Saving Private Ryan -- The first 20 minutes depicting D-Day carnage is the most gripping war sequence ever. Unless you count the climactic battle for survival as Nazis invade a small village. In-between, Tom Hanks plays an everyman GI Joe wrestling with duty and devotion to himself.

The Longest Day -- Hollywood mogul Darryl F. Zanuck supervised this meticulous retelling of D-Day with four directors (plus himself, uncredited) and an all-star cast: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery, Sal Mineo, George Segal, etc. Nobody stays on screen long in the film's epic, quasi-documentary style.

D-Day, the Sixth of June -- U.S. Army captain (Robert Taylor) and British colonel (Richard Todd) on the way to Normandy Beach reminisce about the woman (Dana Wynter) they both love. More soap operatic than strategic, much like the current box office hit, Pearl Harbor.

The Dirty Dozen -- Lee Marvin leads a fictitious platoon of criminals in a secret mission paving the way for D-Day. One of the all-time great guy flicks.

Eye of the Needle -- Donald Sutherland is chilling as a German spy with information that could ruin the D-Day strike. Getting romantically involved with a patriotic housewife (Kate Nelligan) isn't the way to change history.

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey -- Biography of the Oscar-winning director (Giant, A Place in the Sun) includes footage of the D-Day invasion Stevens filmed as a military cinematographer. Nobody knew it existed until after his death in 1975.

On the Double -- If anyone could make audiences laugh about D-Day, it's Danny Kaye. He plays a meek GI who's a dead ringer for a British officer targeted for assassination. Kaye's double-talk helps confuse the Nazis about plans for the invasion.

Where Eagles Dare -- Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood stage a daring mountaintop rescue of a captured British officer before he betrays strategy for D-Day.

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