It begins with a plaintive cello solo, adopted by a crashing of drums: Serene melancholy yields to pulse-quickening pleasure. Proper from the beginning, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is constructed on a sequence of tensions that director Ang Lee is in no hurry to resolve. He eases us right into a misplaced world — a Chinese language village, someday through the Qing dynasty — the place two extremely expert fighters and longtime allies, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), are about to have a long-overdue reunion. They’ve some essential enterprise regarding a visit to Beijing, a lethal sword and Mu Bai’s impending retirement, however their cautious physique language tells a extra private story.

And Lee, to his credit score, offers them the time and house to inform it. In each soft-edged gaze and wistful smile that passes between Mu Bai and Shu Lien, we are able to learn years of unfulfilled, unarticulated longing. “So what is going to you do now?” she asks. His reply — he has a grave to go to and a rating to settle — seems like each an sincere one and a deflection. The shortage of hurry is essential, not solely to the story’s distinctive circulation and rhythm but in addition to its which means. For this can be a film about, amongst different issues, the mysterious inflections and operations of time: It’s about how a furiously kinetic combat scene could make the world stand nonetheless, and the way years of silent struggling can cross by straight away.

Plenty of time has handed since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” first stormed festivals, theaters and the gates of Hollywood itself in 2000. Returning to the large display screen this weekend in a digital 4K restoration, the film has misplaced none of its dreamy magnificence or hypnotic energy, and that energy nonetheless builds as assuredly and methodically as ever.

For those who had been amongst those that noticed the film on its preliminary launch, lured by reviews that Lee had made essentially the most kick-ass motion image in years, you might need felt a twinge of impatience at these first quarter-hour of dialogue-rich, action-free scene setting.

Or maybe you had been drawn in by the classical refinement of the filmmaking, the understated gravity of the performances, the practical sense of grounding in an totally fantastical world. Working by his personal legal guidelines of cinematic physics, Lee should first set up gravity earlier than he can defy it.

Two women in Chinese dress in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh within the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

(Sony Photos Classics)

However defy it he does. The sword falls into impetuous younger arms, heralding the primary of “Crouching Tiger’s” many exhilaratingly fluid transformations. We’re thrust right into a martial-arts film for the ages, sure, but in addition a sly tragicomedy of cross-generational angst. (The intricately plotted screenplay, tailored from a 1941-42 serialized novel by Chinese language writer Wang Du Lu, was written by Wang Hui-ling, James Schamus and Tsai Kuo-jung.)

For the remainder of the story, amid hovering desert interludes and bamboo-forest intrigues, Shu Lien and Mu Bai will take turns attempting to rein in Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), an endearing and exasperating insurgent spirit intent on seizing the love and liberation that our two older heroes have lengthy denied themselves.

Shu Lien and Jen’s first motion sequence, brilliantly staged by the good Hong Kong choreographer Yuen Wo-ping and set to the propulsive drumbeats of Tan Dun’s lyrical rating, instantly cemented “Crouching Tiger’s” place in film legend. As observers would inform it time and again, the sight of those two warriors hovering magically over the rooftops, then partaking in a surprising show of hand-to-hand, wall-to-wall fight, was so fascinating that it led audiences on the 2000 Cannes Movie Pageant to erupt in spontaneous applause.

It was the primary signal that “Crouching Tiger,” a seamless weave of art-house formalism and chopsocky kinetics, was going to be a a lot larger deal stateside than any Mandarin-language wuxia image had any motive to count on. And it additionally confirmed that the Taiwanese-born Lee, coming off a number of acclaimed English-language dramas together with “Sense and Sensibility” (1995) and “The Ice Storm” (1997), had pulled off one other of the chameleon-like swerves that may come to outline his profession.

The remaining was historical past, up to a degree. “Crouching Tiger” opened to the yr’s most ecstatic critiques, not less than within the West. The Instances’ Kenneth Turan wrote that the film’s “mix of the magical, the legendary and the romantic fills a necessity in us we’d not even understand we had,” and audiences actually appeared to agree. The film grossed greater than $213 million worldwide and have become essentially the most profitable non-English-language movie of all time within the U.S., a title it has but to relinquish.

Against this, it proved a significant important and industrial disappointment in Asia, the place Lee’s contribution to the well-worn wuxia annals struck many as an anemic, inauthentic, Western-pandering imitation. (Various additionally dinged Hong Kong stars Yeoh and Chow for his or her conspicuously imperfect Mandarin.)

A man and a woman look at each other in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh within the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

(Sony Photos Classics)

If “Crouching Tiger” was largely rejected within the East, its embrace within the West was rapturous but certified. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and gained 4 of them (for foreign-language movie, cinematography, artwork path and authentic rating). But it surely didn’t win for Lee’s path or for greatest image; it could be one other 19 years earlier than a non-English-language film, the South Korean thriller “Parasite,” would lastly snag the academy’s high prize.

And regardless of the approval for Yeoh, a beloved international star, and Zhang, a revelatory newcomer, “Crouching Tiger” obtained zero nominations for performing — an oversight possible born of some unexamined prejudices, together with the idea that martial arts and the dramatic arts inhabit mutually unique realms.

The academy’s traditionally awful report of honoring Asian actors has fortunately improved lately. In 2021, Steven Yeun grew to become the primary Asian American performer to obtain a lead actor Oscar nomination; his film, “Minari,” additionally gained a supporting actress trophy for Korean actor Yuh-Jung Youn.

And this yr, a report 4 actors of Asian descent have obtained nominations: Hong Chau (“The Whale”) and the “The whole lot All over the place All at As soon as” trio of Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and, in the end, Yeoh herself, who grew to become the primary self-identifying Asian performer to be nominated for lead actress.

The timing of the “Crouching Tiger” rerelease is unquestionably no coincidence; neither was a screening of the film eventually fall’s Telluride Movie Pageant, with Yeoh in attendance. The message is evident, and fairly inarguable: With “The whole lot All over the place All at As soon as,” itself an amusingly blatant love letter to Yeoh’s stardom, academy voters have an opportunity to handle a significant previous oversight.

No matter comes of that marketing campaign, “Crouching Tiger’s” well timed return does excavate some fascinating parallels with “The whole lot All over the place.” In each photos, Yeoh performs a world-weary lady doing battle with a fiery youthful one, who appears to scorn her lifetime of devotion and sacrifice.

In “The whole lot All over the place,” it’s a cosmic wrestle between an Asian American mom and her daughter. In “Crouching Tiger,” Shu Lien initially regards Jen as a wayward youthful sister, somebody to be set on the precise path with coaxing phrases and, if wanted, machetes, spears and swords. It’s no shock that Yeoh, along with her commanding poise and regal bearing, has been solid so typically as tough-love mentor figures. (She and Zhang would later play a unique type of instructor and pupil in 2005’s misbegotten “Memoirs of a Geisha.”)

A rider on a horse in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Chang Chen within the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

(Sony Photos Classics)

If there’s a motive Yeoh and Zhang are so powerfully matched in “Crouching Tiger,” it’s that the strain between Shu Lien and Jen — not simply as people but in addition as representatives of dueling generations and worldviews — takes natural form by their conversations and combat scenes alike.

The revelation of character by motion is a foundational cinematic precept, however hardly ever has it been as eloquently demonstrated as in that over-the-rooftops chase scene. Even one thing so simple as a closeup of Shu Lien’s foot stomping down on Jen’s mid-battle tells the story of the movie in miniature: One lady desires to take flight, however the different retains dragging her again to earth. Your sympathies could also be divided initially, however after some time, you begin to want that it might finish one other manner: that Jen might latch onto Shu Lien and take her away, permitting them to flee not as enemies however as allies.

But it surely isn’t meant to be, and it so hardly ever is in Lee’s achingly romantic work. It’s a truism of his greatest films that irrespective of when or the place they happen — within the historical China of “Crouching Tiger,” within the Nineteenth-century England of “Sense and Sensibility” or the ’60s Wyoming sheep nation of “Brokeback Mountain” — his characters are all fluent in the identical tongue, particularly the language of repressed need.

Even after having watched “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” numerous occasions through the years, I used to be nonetheless ailing ready, on my most up-to-date revisit, for the sudden rush of emotion within the film’s last moments. Zhang’s ferocious strikes and star-is-born aura burn as brightly as ever, however it’s lastly Yeoh’s evocation of thwarted longing that resonates the longest.

Two women prepare to do battle in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh within the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

(Sony Photos Classics)

For all of the extraordinary bodily virtuosity of her efficiency — a lot of which she delivered, astonishingly, whereas recovering from an ankle harm — Yeoh for a lot of the film merely invitations us to look at Shu Lien considering and feeling. You register the beautiful disappointment in her eyes as she sees Mu Bai once more, a disappointment that she consciously places apart as she makes an attempt, with all of the self-discipline and selflessness which have been instilled in her, to do what’s greatest for others relatively than herself. However what does her lifetime of sacrifice finally earn her? What has it benefited her, or anybody, to raise her sense of responsibility over her eager for happiness?

The film is haunted by that query, in addition to the talk it implicitly invitations between Jap and Western traditions. And within the last moments, I feel, Yeoh’s efficiency offers us a solution. It’s revealed in Shu Lien’s bare outpouring of emotion, as she realizes she’s lastly misplaced one thing she by no means allowed herself to own within the first place. Yeoh exhibits us a soul being laid naked, in all its need, anguish and loss — and he or she makes you surprise why, for even a second, any of it needed to be hidden in any respect.