Ang Lee's hommage to the martial-arts fairy tales of his heritage, especially perhaps to the splendrous period pieces of King Hu, is a beautiful bore. The costumes, the sets, the scenery, the wide-screen photography, the mature leading lady, the China-doll ingénue -- beautiful. The talky script, the uninflected unpunctuated narrative line -- a bore. And although Ride with the Devil may have proven that Lee can handle action, it did not prove he could make something credible and compelling of fight scenes in which the combatants go at it like Peter Pan. Nor does this one prove it. We might have hoped that the act of hommage, the ancient milieu, and the self-conscious mythicality would render the action more acceptable, more "aesthetic, " than that of a John Woo burlesque. They only render it more remote, more effete, more affected and anemic. The effects of flying, spinning, dancing up walls, skipping across water, hovering in treetops, etc., are technically well done (yawn), and they sometimes, if only fleetingly, rise to the exalted plane of "dreamlike." "Soporific" would better describe the remainder of the times. Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen. (2000) — Duncan Shepherd
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