Plot: What’s it about?
The great warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) has lived a life of adventure, one that has made him well known and respected in his homeland. But now he has decided to turn over his legendary Green Destiny sword to a dear friend of his, as a most valuable and meaningful present. The sword is ancient and very powerful, so soon enough, a mysterious assassin arrives and steals the irreplaceable artifact. Of course, this means Li must track down the thief and recover the powerful weapon, no matter what it takes. On this quest to retrieve the item, he is joined by Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), who he has passionate feelings toward. This mission further complicates the romance between them and in addition, Li’s father is killed and now vengeance must taken in that respect as well. As the adventure continues, the two will meet other people connected to their quest and of course, the focus on the sword is sometimes blurred by romance, anger, and various high risk battles using supernatural elements.
This film won four Oscars, countless other awards, and become the highest grossing foreign film of all time, a true darling of critics, arthouse lovers, and mainstream audiences. So is it really as good as the hype claims? I don’t think so, but I do think it is a fun movie and one that is very easy to recommend, to be sure. I’ve been a fan of Asian cinema for some time, so the elements in this movie are nothing new, but the scenes are well made, which makes them worthwhile. I think most viewers didn’t have much experience in Asian cinema however, so these elements were fresh to them and as such, they were more impressed, to say the least. I do like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and think it has some great moments, but I don’t think it is as visionary as many people seem to think. Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Chang Chen, and many others turn in superb performances, though I’ve heard complaints about their use of Mandarin. This one has terrific visuals, solid writing, a great cast, adequate direction, and some good battle sequences, more than enough to warrant a recommendation. Columbia/Tristar has given it a solid treatment also, so don’t hesitate to plunk down the cash.
I think my favorite part of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the presence of Michelle Yeoh, who turns in an excellent performance. I’ve heard some complaints about how she handled the Mandarin language, but even so, she is dynamic and proves her skills once again. I think she is best known for her incredible action moves, but Yeoh is also a very good traditional performer, which she confirms in this movie. Of course, she also shows off her martial arts skills and in truth, I think she could put most men to shame. Her presence is one of power to be sure, but she is also beautiful and graceful, which rounds out her performances. You can also see Yeoh in such films as Supercop 2, The Tai Chi Master, The Heroic Trio, Easy Money, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Butterfly & Sword. The cast also includes Chow Yun-Fat (Hard Boiled, Full Contact), Chang Chen (Happy Together, Mahjong), Zhang Ziyi (Rush Hour 2, The Road Home), and Cheng Pei-Pei (Painted Faces, Kung Fu Girl).
Video: How does it look?
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I am quite pleased with this presentation and while it has flaws, I was never distracted by them. The print looks excellent by Asian cinema standards, but still has some grain and debris, though not much in the end. The film’s lush color scheme is presented in fine form, with gorgeous hues and no breakup, at least that I could detect. The contrast is consistent and never falters, with well balanced black levels and no loss of detail. I do wish this was a little cleaner, but given the circumstances, this is a wonderful looking transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a very good one, presenting the film in the original Mandarin form and offering a more than pleasant experience. The surrounds are used to effective ends, but never in an unnatural sense and that keeps it all smooth, which is good. A few scenes really drive the speakers, but this track shines in the more subtle moments, where it really comes to life and is impressive indeed. The dialogue is clean and crisp also, with no volume errors to report in the least. This disc also includes a 5.1 English dubbed edition, 2.0 surround tracks in English and French, and English & French subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I was pleased to find some terrific extras here also, including the twenty-minute Bravo special, Unleashing the Dragon. This is not that in depth, but some good interviews can be found in there, even if the program is promotional in nature. I would have liked a more substantial behind the scenes look, but I’d rather have this than nothing, to be sure. You can also view a nice interview with star Michelle Yeoh, which covers her work on this film, as well as her career in general. I liked this piece and wished it was longer also, but it fits a lot into the thirteen minute running time, so all is well indeed. The main extra on this disc however, is an audio commentary track with director Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus. This session has a good amount of information, but often relies more on humor, which might disappoint some listeners. This disc also includes two theatrical trailers, a photo montage, and some talent files.