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Click above to purchase "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" at amazon.com

 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

review by Zach B.

Rated PG-13

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Running Time: 119 minutes

Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Luing Sihuing and Cheng Pei Pei

Written by Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus and Tsai Kuo Jung
Based on the book by Wang Du Lu

Directed by Ang Lee

Retail Price: $26.98

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Ang Lee and Co-Writer/Executive Producer James Schamus, Bravo Making Of Special: Unleashing The Dragon, A Conversation With Michelle Yeoh, Photo Montage, Filmographies, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Chapter Search (28 Chapters)

Let's all be honest here, not so many people are into foreign films. They have their own little niche, their own little fans and pretty much their own little market. In most smaller areas (not cities), you're lucky if you have two art house theaters (I only have one). It's sort of like independent films, films from other countries are very unique and are usually in their native language with subtitles. The only really mainstream foreign film ever was the good but overrated "Life Is Beautiful", which garnered many, many awards and spread to a few hundred theaters and became the top grossing foreign film in the U.S., grossing around sixty million dollars.

So here comes "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". Released in China last July to much critical acclaim, Sony Pictures Classics snapped up the rights to bring it to the U.S., where the film played for a few months in various film festivals, gaining a lot of buzz before slowly releasing it in theaters last December. The film then went on to win four Academy Awards® (and I feel it did not win for Best Director and Best Picture is that the Best Foreign Film killed two birds with one stone.) Sony even released two trailers. One for the casual moviegoer with the action it features, the other for art house audiences with more of the story side and critical acclaim. After hearing about the movie it did sound like it could be like a mainstream film... and it did become much more than that. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" shattered the "Life Is Beautiful" record grossing well over one hundred million at the box office. For a foreign film, that is truly amazing. I was lucky enough to see the movie opening weekend in New York City (actual date: December 9th, 2000). I really did enjoy the film, but after seeing it, I thought the film was not so mainstream because it was really artsy. But the movie did well... Sony sold it on the battle scenes to get people into the theater.

Mu Bai (the excellent Chow Yun-Fat) has an reputation for being a deadly and soulful warrior, yet has a lot of wisdom and heart. The film opens with him arriving at the headquarters of Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), that being one of his oldest and most loyal friends. Mu Bai is settling down to retire, so he is giving away his infamous sword, the Green Destiny, (which is 400 years old and looks really light and somewhat weak, yet it is incredibly powerful and heavy) to Sir Te, a man who has supported and encouraged him throughout his life. However, after the sword is at the home of Sir Te, it is stolen by a mysterious masked stranger known as the Jade Fox. Lien assumes that Te's beautiful daughter, Jen (Zhang Ziyi) stole it, but we learn that Jen isn't like any other girl, as she is controlled by the Jade Fox herself and is a deadly warrior. Jen is also downright nasty, who wants to be free of the male dominated society.

I really don't know what more I can add to what already has been said, but I'll do my best. This film has gotten raves all over, and pretty much it's all been covered. But here it is anyway. I guess I'll start what got the movie a lot of buzz in the first place: the action sequences. The action sequences don't outrank the plot or story (thankfully), but I wish there were more of them. Still, what is presented is a real treat. There are about seven or eight of them throughout the film, and they are really like nothing you've ever seen before. These stunts and fights are really, really intense. Many people are going to draw comparisons to "The Matrix" with them. For one thing, they were choreographed by Yuen-Wo Ping, the same guy who was responsible for the sequences in "The Matrix". Anyhow, these parts defy the laws of gravity and balance without reason. Characters fly and duke it out with swords and their punches and kicks. I'm glad these don't last a minute or two, and with the exception with the final battle with Jade Fox and the Green Destiny (which was disappointing in length but still cool), these last a good amount of time and will cause your jaw to drop. Characters jump so gracefully and run sideways on walls, it's all really well done and such a joy to watch. This is what I think is the mainstream part of the film, and if you're going in for these stunts, you'll be amazed, but ultimately disappointed at the lack of them.

Next is what I thought that would not appeal to the mainstream audiences: the story. The story is excellent, but what I really like about is how deep it is. Based on an early 20th century novel about the Wuxia, a group of loyal Chinese warriors, the film was written by James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang and Kuo Jung Sai. For you Ang Lee fans, you know Schamus has been his right hand man, adapting the screenplay for "The Ice Storm" and writing "Ride With The Devil". The script is really good, as the plot is laced with some deep themes of love and the old days of China when it was ruled by males. The characters are well developed, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own emotional core. Jen yearns for freedom, Lien wants to express her love despite what's going on and Bai is a man who is tired of fighting and simply wants to settle down and live in solitude. What I didn't like about the script though is how things shifted, it felt a bit uneven. There was not so much of a focus on Jade Fox and the sword itself, but rather what Jen was going through and a pretty long flashback sequence. This really gives the film depth, but it would have been great if they made it more even. Yes, I realized things have to be established, but I felt it was a bit much.

The production values of the film are first rate. I think Ang Lee is an extraordinary director, bringing such films as "Sense and Sensibility", "The Ice Storm" and "Ride With The Devil" to life. Here he really shows his stuff here, as he blends the action and themes into one. His vision for this film is superb, and I think without him it wouldn't have been so good. The sets and costumes are really unique, I actually thought I was there back in Imperial China watching all of this unfold before my eyes. You really feel like you're there, and it looks really nice, so good art direction on that part. In part of feeling like you are there, the performances are great. Chow Yun Fat (people will recognize him from "Anna and the King" and "The Replacement Killers", but he's a huge Asian action star) and Michelle Yeoh (who was in the James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies") has deeply affecting performances, bringing a lot of life into their characters. The same thing for Zhang Ziyi and Cheng Pei Pei. The musical score is really well timed and is sweet yet haunting, perfectly fitting the film, it does bring a lot to it (the score also won an Oscar®). The cello solos are performed by Yo Yo Ma, which is really cool (I like Yo Yo Ma). One aspect of the film which I really liked was the sound effects and sound design, they are just booming to death. The fists flying, guns firing kicks rising and swords clashing... they sound so good and are edited so well, it's like music to your ears. It makes it all the more alive, so my kudos to the sound designers (and it sounds great on the DVD... but more on that later). Finally, the editing and cinematography (which won an Oscar®). Each is can be summed up in one word: flawless. The movie is so well filmed with great camera movements and angles. There are so many lovely shots, just like the action sequences, they will amaze you. The editing is great too. As I said, I felt like I was there watching all of this, thanks to the cuts the film has. It's all done appropriately and with much thought. The editing is superb in the action sequences. It's not shaky or quick or anything, like some movies where you get so confused and can't tell what's going on. Here you have a real easy time following the action, setting up good shots.

This film is nearly perfect, and not perfect as everyone is going on to be. What brings it down is how the story arc is presented (see earlier in the review), but it's still all good. I was sort of surprised how American audiences reacted with the story part. I though the marketing of the movie was brilliantly done and well advertised. Still, the story is deep, and I didn't think so many casual moviegoers were really going to really understand be enthralled by it (I'm not sure if they did, maybe I'm not giving people a fair chance). Yes, they loved the action, but there's so much beauty to the story, which I feel some found or still may find boring. Also, so many people mind subtitles. If it's not in English, it is a big turn off (they re-released "Life Is Beautiful" into a lousy dub which quickly bombed). But I am a big advocate of films being presented in their original languages, so they can be presented they way they were originally supposed too. Still, if you hate subtitles... there's an English dub on the disc.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a revolutionary film, there is simply nothing like it to ever grace the film before. While I felt some parts were a bit slow and dragged on, and the story was not as even as it could have been, this is one damn good film and is an instant classic.

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, DVD has retained the visual beauty of the film. The wonderful interiors of the building and the astonishing outside landscapes, the video does pack quite a punch. Sadly, it's not as cleaned up as I would have hoped. I did notice some slight digital artifacting here and there as well as some shimmering. But the main disappointment is the amount dirt and grain on the print. It starts out a bit messy but then clears up, but there are still marks and scratches which I found a bit distracting. Besides that, colors are well saturated and this is a transfer that's pretty nice on the eyes.

Two words for you: reference quality. Besides the visual beauty of the film itself, the sound has so much going for it and a lot of dazzle to give you an incredible experience. The film is Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround and French Surround. Tan Dun's beautiful score immerses you deeply in the film, while surround use through the action sequences are top notch. The slashes of the Green Destiny, the kicks, the punches and the whole aura of everything will really get you inside the film. The fights sound amazing and during the other action sequences things are really well mixed. The .1 LFE is brought to good use here. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear with nothing overlapping it.

On a side note, I did watch some of the English dub and I must say it's not that bad. I really only like dubs when it comes to Japanese animation, as I feel with live action movies the words don't match the actors well and the script can be totally ruined. The film in theaters of course was presented in the original Mandarin Chinese language, but if you can't stand foreign languages, the English dub is surprisingly good. Personally, I like seeing the movies the way they were meant to be and how they were envisioned, but again, if you prefer English, you'll be treated to a good version here. I felt what I watched of the dub didn't completely live up to the original script, it's not "stupefied" for the masses and the English is pretty damn good. The voice work is nice and it's not horrendous when matching mouths. So, choose your preference. The film has English subtitles (that match the Chinese, NOT the English dub) and French subtitles.

While not feature packed, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" features a substantial amount of extras that's sure to please any fan of the film. While it's basically a port of the region 3 version from a few months back, many may be surprised that there's not more as far as extras considering how many loved the movie and how successful it really was. Still, what's here does justice to the movie...

A Audio Commentary with Ang Lee and James Schamus is provided. I am really happy to have this included on the disc. Finally, Ang Lee sits down to talk about a film he's made. Schamus, his long time collaborator joins him obviously. This is a really good track as I really enjoyed it. They make some jokes but do give good stories about the film and seem quite passionate about everything. The choices they made, the shots... just a lot of things about the film and they make it really interesting. I was not disappointed and I'm sure you won't be either. Give it a listen. One of the best tracks I've heard in a while.

The Bravo Making Of Special: Unleashing The Dragon lasts about twenty-one minutes and is a pretty good watch. The "Bravo" beside it may make it seem classy as they are a great film and arts channel, but this is pretty promoish. Not to say it's not good, I thought it was above average most featurettes I've seen. But there is that promo quality that rings here and there. It features clips from the films, interviews with Yeoh, Schamus, Fat Lee and some others. There's also behind the scenes clips. They talk about various parts of the production, the story and have a lot of praises to go around. It's well made, but it's still a bit fluffy.

A Conversation With Michelle Yeoh lasts a solid fourteen minutes and presented in full frame. Besides the clips from the films, Yeoh basically talks about the film, film "legacy", Ang Lee and her experiences on the film. This does reveal crucical points about the film, so if you haven't seen the film, don't watch this first! It's good for a watch once.

Rounding the disc out is a seven minute Photo Montage, the US Theatrical Trailer, the International Theatrical Trailer and Filmographies, which actually do contain information about the people. Basically, they're your run of the mill talent files.

Also, inside the keep case there are nice production notes. On another note, some of you may get annoyed easily with the menu transistions. They have clips from the film and you can't skip over them. This does get annoying but I got used to it after a while.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is sure to be a huge seller on DVD, and this is certainly a film you'll want in your collection. Great picture and some awesome sound, there is also worthwhile supplements to enjoy. If you like deep articulate stories and/or some great action sequences (despite there's not much of them when you thinking about it), "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is for you. If you haven't seen it, check it out and see what all the fuss has been about.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)

(4/5)

(5/5)

(2.5/5)

(3.5/5, NOT an average)

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