His Sense and Sensibility (1995) crackled with such emotional excitement some of us mistakenly concluded that Taiwan’s Ang Lee could direct. Since then, his papier-mâché Wo hu cang long, for all its martial-arts spectacle, has proven otherwise. Plainly, the earlier wonderful film owed more to Jane Austin, Emma Thomson’s script and the performances of his actors than to Lee.
     The clumsy, boring staging of all but the swordfights (by the same individual who handled the confrontations in The Matrix) exposes the trivial nature of the story. The quest for the missing magical jade sword might have released ripples of mythical richness but doesn’t. Qing Dynasty China is unfeelingly sketched in. For all this film’s expense, it generates not the slightest pleasure, except perhaps for those determined to find its pretentious Zen atmospherics and contrived romance appealing. It is outrageous that Lee invests the confrontations, including those involving female participants, with so little social context, including the sense of an imperiled community hanging in the balance. The costumes are pretty and the musical score lovely; that is the level at which this self-serious “entertainment” operates.
     And it lasts for a bloody two hours! Like Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), it drones on and on, trying viewer patience. And here there’s no brilliant Heath Ledger to keep one alert. Watching Wo hu cang long is like being buried alive.
     Winner of dozens of best film and best foreign-language film prizes, including the Oscar and those from the London and Los Angeles critics, and the National Board of Review.
     Filmed in China.

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