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Some will say that CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON ($28) is derivative of various films from the fantasy and martial arts genres, others will see that this incredible motion picture truly unlike any other. With CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, director Ang Lee has fashioned a hauntingly lyrical movie with a soul, which employs stylish fantasy and martial arts elements. There is a depth of character and a depth of emotion in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON that differentiates it from ordinary genre entries, which in comparison, seem almost superficial.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON certainly deserved the laurels trusted upon it- it is an amazing motion picture experience. However, it is the film's greatest strengths that may limit its appeal to audiences expecting typical "chop socky" entertainment. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON has a slow, deliberate pace in which its story to unfolds with a tantalizing sense of Asian mystery that also allows enough time for the characters to fully develop. Certainly, the film does feature some wonderfully fast paced martial arts fighting sequences, but they do not occur in a continuous stream, as genre fans have come to expect. However, what CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON does offer, would certainly rate amongst the most amazingly choreographed martial arts sequences ever committed to film. Not only are they jaw dropping in their intensity, they are far more fluid and balletic than anything I have ever seen in a martial arts movie.

The plot of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is beautifully simple, with the film's complexities lying in the relationships and emotions of its characters. For my money, Chow Yun-Fat is one of the most charismatic actors working on either side of the Pacific and he is ideally cast as Wudan master Li Mu Bai. Li Mu Bai is a world-weary warrior, who has seen enough of battle and seeks something more rewarding from life. Placing his sword, the Green Destiny, into the care of friend, Li Mu Bai looks forward to a peaceful retirement. However, a young warrior, who possesses tremendous skill, soon steals the sword from its new home. Honor dictates that Li Mu Bai recover the Green Destiny, however when he comes to recover the sword, he discovers that the young warrior’s master is Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng), who murdered Li Mu Bai's teacher and stole the secrets of the gravity defying Wudan discipline. Although Li Mu Bai still seeks the return of the sword, his quest takes on a new priority.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON also stars Michelle Yeoh in a role that allows her to flex her acting muscles, instead of just those that show off her martial arts prowess. As Shu Lien, Yeoh plays a woman whose life is very much entwined with that of Li Mu Bai. It is Shu Lien who delivers the Green Destiny to their mutual friend and, after the sword is stolen, she who traces it to the home of the governor, where she encounters Jen (Ziyi Zhang), who is so much more than a young girl facing the prospect of an arranged marriage. In some respects, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON could be considered a feminist film, since it depicts powerful female characters at a time in history when society looked upon women as little more than property.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON available in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The transfer is quite beautiful and completely captures the dreamlike quality of Peter Pau's Academy Award winning cinematography. I would rate the picture quality as very high, although it is not completely perfect. For a brand new movie, there are a few too many blemishes on the film element, which show through in the transfer. A bit of digital cleanup work could have alleviated the problem and elevated my estimation of the presentation a few more notches. Still, the image is very sharp and provides a very solid level of detail. Colors are exquisite, but there is a bit of restraint in the palette that keeps any sign of over-saturation out of the image. However, flesh tones are rendered in a completely natural fashion. There are no traces of chroma noise or smearing during the presentation. Blacks are solid and inky, plus the picture boasts impressive shadow detail and a remarkable level of depth. Digital compression artifacts remain out of sight, thanks to clean dual layer authoring.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is presented with it's original Mandarin language track, as well as an English dub for subtitle hating American audiences. Both soundtracks are offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mixes and I am going to recommend the Mandarin language track, since it is representative of the original performances. The mix makes good use of the discrete nature of the format to create a nicely atmospheric environment. Since this isn't a modern action movie, aggressive sound effects usage is constrained to the fight sequences, which are highly engaging, but not explosively overdone. Subtle sound effects are generally placed in the surround channels, which are well utilized throughout the film to create a natural sonic environment. Since I don't speak Mandarin, I can't gage intelligibility, but the voices do sound natural and convincing. The bass channel is very solid and adds weight to the soundtrack. Tan Dun has provided CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON with a superb film score that features haunting cello solos by musician Yo-Yo Ma. The music is very well recorded and reproduced in the sound mix with impressive fidelity. I did sample a bit of the English 5.1 channel soundtrack and the sound is fairly similar to the Mandarin track in tonal quality. Those who absolutely refuse to read subtitles should find the English track serviceable. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles. For those listening to the Mandarin track, the English subtitles are presented in a large and very readable yellow typeface.

Full motion video, animation and sound enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a number of supplements. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON includes a running audio commentary that features director Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus. The is a good, solid, informative track that benefits from the pleasant dispositions of both participants, who manage to keep the atmosphere light throughout their talk. From the Bravo network comes the twenty-one minute program- Unleashing the Dragon. This is a better than average making of featurette, with a bit more substance than fluff. More interesting is the thirteen minute Conversation With Michelle Yeoh, in which the actress talks about the challenge of making this film and working with director Ang Lee, as well as co-star Chow Yun-Fat. Yeoh also talks a bit about her career in martial arts movies and how this film has allowed her to demonstrate her dramatic abilities, in addition to her physical dexterity. Filling out the supplements are the American theatrical trailer, an international theatrical trailer, a photo montage with costume designs and production photos, plus a few talent files.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is truly marvelous motion picture that richly deserved the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The movie is not only stylish, it is emotionally stirring, as well as being beautifully conceived and executed. The DVD looks and sounds great making it a worthwhile acquisition for anyone even remotely interested in the film.


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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