Mr. Showbiz report on CTHD

Martial Arts Epic Tiger Wows Cannes Crowd

CANNES Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility) is back in Cannes with a movie that looks sure to be a sensation: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's the first time a Hong Kong martial arts period picture has ever been done with an A-list director and two superstars, Chow Yun-Fat (John Woo's frequent leading man) and Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies). The film opens in the United States this winter.

The Taiwan-born Lee filmed the Chinese-language drama in China over five and a half grueling months. What is sure to get attention is the incredible, Matrix-style flying the fighters do; it's almost as if this is an Asian Peter Pan with adults. (Of course, it should be noted that "Matrix-style flying" originated in Hong Kong in films like 1987's A Chinese Ghost Story.)

The most spectacular flying sequence in Tiger takes place on the tops of the trees in a bamboo forest. "It's my dream," Lee admits over lunch in Cannes. "A lot of Chinese martial arts films fight in the forest, and no one ever gets on top. This was my fantasy, and I wanted to do it on an upper level. It's romantic to me and visually fascinating. And of all the plants, the bamboo is the one that matches swordsmanship in integrity and lightness. Everything about bamboo matches the image of swords."

If it looks spectacular, it was managed not with winches and machines but, as in the Matrix and other films, with a crew holding on to the wires and manipulating them carefully so Chow Yun-Fat wouldn't fly into a tree and be killed. But putting the star of Anna and the King 18 feet up was, Lee explains, "hell for the crew. It was hell every day, and dangerous. We had a month of discussion whether to do it or not. They didn't think it was doable; it had never been done before, and we didn't know the result.

"Logistically, since the company was filming in Beijing, it meant driving into the country with everyone for a week to do something we didn't know we could do. It was high risk. But I wanted to give it a try. We have a saying in China: You don't shed a tear until you see the coffin."