So in putting together this piece Ang Lee got his box-office smash the hard way: Not only did he film in Mandarin (which might explain to the perceptive reviewer below why they "couldn't get the lips to sync right"), but he has as the two lead protagonists and fighting extraordinaires, women. And while there's action to do you Tuesday next week, for all the sword play, there's not a great deal of *violence* (the swordfighting is more like ballet than combat), and the voguish brutal realism is replaced by surreal, liquid movement and total disregard for gravity.
Theme-wise, for once there really is something happening - a subtext of struggle against social convention, no small irony given the revolution against cinematic convention which the film represents. There are two love stories, but for the most part they're airily sketched - having said that, the climatic scene, involving one pair of star cross'd lovers, has all the weight of Shakespearian tragedy.
If anything is underdone it's the exposition on the bad guys; It's not clear (in the dubbed version, at any rate) what Jade Fox has done, nor why she's gone over to the dark side, nor why the Diplomat's daughter should be siding with her (other than on account of a wild streak). To my mind Jade Fox could have been left out of the film altogether - it would have required minimal re-writing and perhaps closed off a number of side plots (such as that concerning the police chief) which were not properly developed in the end anyway.
While it's not perfect, it's a landmark film, for if it achieves nothing else it provides an ideal compromise at the video store when *she* wants the English Patient and *he* wants Die Hard II. No mean feat.
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