A rich, romantic take on the wuxia, China’s heroic swordsman genre, from the eclectic Ang Lee. The first ten minutes or so offer dense exposition, introducing the legendary and righteous swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), his esteemed partner Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and the wilful young aristocrat Jen (Zhang Ziyi), who enjoys a double life as a thief under the malign tutelage of her governess (Cheng Pei-Pei). They clash over the Green Destiny, a priceless sword which Jen steals as a mark of defiance. Yu gives chase in a brilliantly modulated set-piece across the roof-tops, the women defying gravity in exhilarating leaps and bounds. Once it takes flight the movie never touches the ground, spinning myriad duels of the body and spirit.
Ang Lee has always been a director of finesse and fine feeling, but his touch is just as deft even as he extends his grasp to reveal the breathtaking vistas of mythic China, then relaxes enough to stage the demolition of a tavern with slapstick aplomb. Inventively choreographed by Yeun Wo-Ping – of The Matrix fame – the film imbues every look, every gesture with resonance and grace. Sexy and sublime, it’s a feast for the senses and 100 per cent sheer cinema.