‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’

A full throttle combat narrative that is simultaneously a thoughtful and meditative martial arts feature from director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Eat Drink Man Woman), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was, on release in 2000, hugely successful both critically and at the global box office. It became the first subtitled film to break $100 million at the US box-office.

A violent past is hopefully laid to rest as the charismatic Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Monkey King) gives up his legendary Green Destiny sword, a blade of heroes, into the safe keeping of Governor Yu. But a fearless young warrior steals it, forcing Mu Bai and respected warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh – The Lady, Crazy Rich Asians) to confront the thief.

Beautifully told, tradition of 19th century China is both respected and challenged as Governor Yu’s daughter Jen (Ziyi Zhang – Memoirs of a Geisha, The Grandmaster) questions the gender role imposed on her. The phrase Wo Hu Cang Long (crouching tiger, hidden dragon) also alludes to desire and behaviour that must be repressed within court society.

Nominated for 10 Oscars in 2001 including best film, director, adapted screenplay, editing – won 4 for best foreign language film, cinematography (Peter Pau), original score (Dun Tan) and art direction.

Rating: 74%

‘Eat, Drink, Man, Woman’

A gastronomic delight as semi-retired revered chef, Chu (Sihung Lung – Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Wedding Banquet), sees his three home-living daughters look to change in their lives.

Middle daughter, Jia-Chien, a succesful airline executive, is likely to be promoted to a position in the company’s Amsterdam offices: the eldest, Jia-Chien, is a dull chemistry teacher mocked for her Christian faith whilst the youngest, Jia-Nin is a student. They love their father but tradition – particularly the over-the-top sumptuous Sunday lunches – is too restrictive. But things change when widow Jin Rong returns from Los Angeles.

A gently paced, finely observed family drama full of tensions, jealousies and humour, this early Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) is a controlled simmer of a narrative.

Nominated for the 1995 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 69%

‘A Family Tour’

Something of a film festival favourite (including Melbourne in 2019), A Family Tour is a poignant tale based on director Ying Liang’s (The Other Half, I Have Nothing to Say) own personal experiences of asylum.

A successful Hong Kong-based director, Yang Shu (Zhe Gong – You & Me), is invited to the Formosa Film Festival in Taiwan. Having fled China five years earlier, it is an opportunity to meet up with her ailing mother (Nai An – Blind Massage, Girls Always Happy). Although seriously ill, the two women plan to meet through an officially-sanctioned holiday package tour to the island. She can be reunited with daughter, son-in-law (Pete Teo – Papadom, Ghost in the Shell) and meet her grandson for the first time.

Gently exploring the inseparability of the political and personal,  A Family Tour is a quiet family drama as Yang Shu looks to persuade her mother to travel to Hong Kong rather than return to China. But she must also deal with the over-officious tour guides.

Rating: 60%

‘The Road to Mandalay’

MV5BZGFiZjI5ZjAtNWZhMy00ZTQzLWIyNDUtMjM3MmU1MTM2MjE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzY3MTQ1NTY@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_A quiet, understated reflection on Burmese immigrants illegally working in Thailand as Lianqing (Ke-Xi Wu – Poor Folk, Ice Poison) escapes her impoverished rural home life. Sending money home and obtaining a work permit in any way possible is her focus, even at the cost of her relationship with Guo (Kai Ko – You Are the Apple of My Eye, When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep).

Both are in search of a better life, but their contradictory personalities inevitably lead to conflict. Director Midi Z (Poor Folk, Ice Poison), a rising star of Asian cinema, focuses on the everyday events and hardships faced by the pair – making its denouement in the final seconds even more unexpected and shocking.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 69%

‘The Assassin’

the-assassinElegant, surprisingly delicate, precise down a tee with stunning cinematography, The Assassin is not the average acrobatic martial arts feature.

More contemplative that combative, it’s quietness is both its strength and weakness. It’s hard not to get lost in the sumptuous interiors and breathtaking landscapes – yet the minimum dialogue, lack of clarity and sporadic action lulls you into occasional moments of soporific stupor.

It’s certainly a change of direction for Hsiao-Hsien Hou (Flight of the Red Balloon, A Time to Live A Time To Die), regarded as one of the most important directors working in world cinema. And while successful on the international film festival circuit, it’s cinematographer Ping Bin Lee (Renoir, In the Mood For Love) who has been picking up the plaudits.

Rating: 64%