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Chow Yun Fat is a famous martial artist. He and Michelle Yeoh are famous for their fighting skills. Chow even more because hes an expert at this kind of martial art that only chosen men can learn.
The movie starts with Chow visiting Michelle asking her to bring his sword, the Green Destiny, to the mayor of some town in China. Chow and Michelle actually love each other very much but they never admitted it to each other.
Michelle goes to the town and stays in the house of some official, who asks her to stay longer for the wedding of his only daughter played by Zhang Zi Yi. Zhang appears to be a goody-goody type of daughter, very prim and proper, following her dad and her nanny a lot.
At night, the Green Destiny sword is stolen. Michelle tries to fight the ninja who has the Green Destiny but she doesnt know who it is. She is also very shocked that this ninja is skilled in the same martial art as Chow Yun Fat.
In the middle part of the movie, we see that Zhang is actually that great ninja. She learned martial arts from her nanny, the evil, witch-like character in the movie. The nanny had stolen a book about the exclusive martial art from the master of Chow. Girls are not allowed to learn this martial art but she stole the book anyway and learned it just by looking at the pictures, since she couldnt read. She taught Zhang but since Zhang came from a very educated family, Zhang could read. So she read the book without telling the nanny and became a better martial artist than her. The nanny found out about it and although she loved Zhang very much, she hated her and wanted to kill her for being a better martial artist.
There is a flashback in the movie and we see Zhang traveling across the desert with lots of servants and security dudes. She is with an elderly lady, I think her mom. They are attacked by bandits and although they had lots of security guys, the bandits easily beat them. Zhang peeps outside of her carriage and the head of the bandit, played by Chang Chen, sees her, winks at her and grabs her comb that her mother gave earlier in their trip.
She gets out of the carriage and follows Chang Chen trying to get her comb back. Chang takes her back to his place. They have a funny relationship in the beginning, always fighting and ridiculing each other. Then they become the horniest couple and cant keep their naughty hands off each other. Zhang doesnt want to go back to her village since she knows her father will arrange her wedding to someone she doesnt love. She wants to stay with Chang in the desert. Chang loves her too but he said theyre both from different worlds. He is the head of a group of desert bandits and she is the daughter of a rich and powerful official.
We go back to the present time and Chow is in the same town where Zhang lives. He heard that the Green Destiny has been stolen and at night meets the same ninja Michelle fought with. There are a lot of flying and kicking but finally, Chow nails the ninja. He takes off her mask even though they dont show her face, Chow knows it is Zhang. The nanny of Zhang comes to help her fight Chow but Chow beats them both. Chow tells Zhang he wants to teach her the proper way of the exclusive martial art since she has been miseducated by her nanny. She is so stubborn she doesnt want to listen. The nanny runs away the next morning.
Chang, the desert bandit, sneaks to the room of Zhang and tells her that he wants to bring her back to the desert so that they could live like man and wife again. Zhang says she is getting married the next day. Chang looks at her and puts something in her hand and leaves right away. Zhang is unhappy about her upcoming wedding and when she looks at her hand, she sees the comb that Chang stole from her when she was traveling through the desert.
The next day is the wedding of Zhang. There is some sort of parade and she is getting married to this ugly, fat Chinese. Chang tries to ruin the wedding by kidnapping Zhang. He is stopped by Chow and Michelle. They order Chang to go and hide in a holy temple high in the mountains, before the officials have him killed for ruining the wedding. Chang flees from the town and goes to the temple. Zhang runs away from home to find Chang. She has the Green Destiny with her.
Michelle and Chow want to get the Green Destiny to its proper place and they want to settle things between Zhang and Chang. They go out and look for Zhang and the Green Destiny. They reach the same village where Michelle was in the beginning of the movie. Zhang is fighting and beating everyone up in town and Chow and Michelle easily finds her because the village people ask them for help in stopping Zhang.
Zhang goes to the place where Michelle is staying and she is happy to see Michelle. Michelle is not very happy with all the things Zhang has been doing and Zhang runs away again.
Chow finds her and they have an awesome fighting scene. Theyre flying and fighting on top of trees. Finally, they get to the bottom of a waterfall and Zhang is nailed by Chow. Zhang asks why Chow keeps on following her and he says he wants to teach her the real way of the martial art that she has learned in a corrupt way. Zhang still is very stubborn and says she will learn if Chow can get the Green Destiny in three moves. Chow easily gets it and he throws the Green Destiny into the water and tells Zhang she doesnt deserve to use the Green Destiny. Zhang jumps into the water, diving for the sword and someone comes flying in and picks up Zhang. It is her bad ass nanny. She is hiding in a cave and brings Zhang there, trying to revive her.
Michelle and Chow finds Zhang drugged out, thanks to her caring nanny. The nanny was nowhere to be found and suddenly they are attacked by all these flying needles... yes the bad ass nanny strikes again. Chow blocks all the flying needles trying to protect Zhang and finally fights the nanny who is killed. Before she dies, she says that even though Chow has blocked all the needles, he wasnt able to block one of the poisoned needles. Shes right. We see Chow with a needle stuck on his neck. The nanny says the poisoned needle is supposed to be for Zhang, her only love and enemy. Then she dies.
Michelle freaks out that Chow has a needle sticking out of his neck. Zhang realizes this is all her fault and says that there is a cure for that poisoned needle. Michelle and Chow explains that there is no cure it is the same needle that killed the Chow's master. Zhang says that THERE IS a cure for it. The nanny told her the recipe before. She went out to gather the ingredients for the recipe. Michelle is there with the dying Chow in her arms. Chow finally admits his secret ocean-like undying love for her. They kiss for the first time.
Meanwhile, Zhang is frantically looking for the ingredients but when she gets back she is too late. Chow already died. Michelle is still holding him but she is very composed. She tells Zhang to go to the temple in the mountains. Chang is there waiting for her. Zhang leaves for the temple and she is finally united with Chang.
Chang wakes up the next morning and he cannot find Zhang anywhere. He goes out and he sees her standing by the bridge. He catches up with her. Zhang looks at him and asked him if he remembered the time he told her a story while they were still in the desert. Chang told her this story that there was a very poor old man who was very sick. He had children who all died because of illnesses. He believed that the body is a source of misery and since he loved his children very much, he decided that by jumping off that bridge, he can be with his children. The old man makes a wish and jumps off the bridge. He discovers that hes much happier.
Zhang tells Chang to make a wish. Chang wishes that they are both back in the desert. Zhang jumps off of the bridge.
Chang and Zhang loved each other more on the physical level unlike Michelle and Chow who loved each other beyond that level. Zhang understood that she was causing so much misery and problems. So by jumping off the bridge of the holy temple, she can be happier.
NOTE: Here is a comment I received from movie spoiler reader, Mike Dougherty...
The spoiler for Crouching Tiger's ending isn't quite accurate. Zhang
Ziyi's character didn't commit suicide, which may have been implied. She
leapt off the bridge and floated away (a feat achievable in martial arts
lore), in essence escaping to freedom: the freedom to be an independent
spirit, the freedom to choose to do what she wishes, the freedom away from a
marriage she never wanted, the freedom away from the strictures of society,
the freedom to pursue her own martial arts studies....
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