Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
* This DVD Review is dedicated to my friend Chung Man Wong in Hong Kong.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a proverb from ancient Chinese mythology which means 'To Hide One's Strength From One's Enemy'.

If you haven't heard of this little foreign-made, US-financed, Asian-epic film about love and gravity-defying swordplay by now, then you must still be living under a rock.  In simple terms, it is a graceful Martial Arts film with beautifully crafted cinematography and a complex story about unrequited love, innocence and wisdom, betrayal and redemption; played against the backdrop of Western-Indo China - pretty much your average classic masterpiece.

All of the actors perform their own stunts as they are quite adept at performing extensive 'Movie Martial Arts' sequences and this avoids the cringe-factor of seeing obvious stunt-doubles - the worst offender of this practice has to be John Woo's "Face/Off", it's like he didn't even bother trying to hide them!  The use of the original actors soaring high above the treetops or performing the 10-15 sword-moves per shot really pays off.  The technique used to send everyone into the air is what's known as 'wire-fu' which was ultimately mastered in Hong Kong and is most famous in Jet Li's "Once Upon A Time In China".  This added hyper-realism might not sit well with some viewers (me included), but I have to admit that I enjoyed the smooth flowing nature of the beast, since this is meant to be a 'ballet' - graceful and dramatic, and it works very well in this environment.

This film stars Michelle Yeoh ("Supercop") and Chow Yun Fat ("Hard Boiled").  The Special Effects are from the people who brought you "The Matrix" (with the Martial Arts choreography done by Yuen Woo Ping who was also involved in the movie), and is directed by Ang Lee ("Eat Drink Man Woman" & "Sense And Sensibility" - I kid you not).  This was the jewel of the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, mainly for the powerful acting that added the much needed believability to their impractical physical performances.  Without their credible acting, this would have otherwise become just a pretty picture with a semi-interesting story.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Movie
The story centres around a mystical and magical blade called the Jade Sword which endows any skilled martial artist with superiority in battle.  The owner wishes to pass it on to an old friend when it suddenly and mysteriously disappears.  Yu (Chow Yun Fat) quests for the legendary weapon with the help of Li (Michelle Yeoh) whom he holds an unrequited love for.  It's suspected that an assassin named Jade Fox (who long ago had murdered Yu's father) is somehow involved in the theft and this results in Yu's renewed desire for revenge, which in turn creates an internal conflict for him between honour, love and duty.  There are many other players which add to this complex tapestry and it's best that you discover all this for yourself.

Video
The word for this transfer is stunning, there is very little to complain about with this image.  Considering this movie cost less than a tenth of the major blockbusters of today, there are virtually no blemishes of any kind (especially with the extensive CGI work for the budget given).  The colours are both rich and textured but are sometimes not quite as vibrant as one might expect, as many of the scenes were intentionally filmed under natural lighting levels to accentuate the detail without accidentally washing it out (and to retain the 'period' feel of the movie, I expect).

I do have my reservations with the night-time scenes, mostly because it's like watching someone under the moonlight, but I have no doubt that the director wanted to give us the impression of what you would have seen had you lived in the period of this movie (which at best is under lantern firelight).  From this we are given a dreamlike quality of viewing here and therefore the scenes tend to work only on a semi-concious level for me at best.  The black levels are deep and luckily do not drown out most of the detail.

Also, with the advances in CGI technology, scenes such as those in the forest are made even more impressive because of the undetectable wire-removal, with every leaf and piece of shrubbery completely restored which helps to sell the interaction between the actors and their environment immensely.

Audio
The original Mandarin DD 5.1 soundtrack is mostly made up of the on-set dialogue recording, whereas all other language dubs were re-recorded in the studio (see further notes in Summary).  I have to say that the Mandarin dialogue is the only way to experience this movie as half of the actual story-telling is accomplished by the emotions conveyed by the actors recorded on-set - but listening to the woefully stilted (and dumb-downed) English redub is simply short-changing yourself of the experience and impact.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I would describe all the soundtracks to be perfectly adequate for this type of movie.  The action sequences help to shake the dust (but not the cobwebs) off the sub-woofer and rear-speakers, but they are thankfully not overpowering so that you aren't distracted from the film's central theme.  The lengthy dialogue expositions actually provide some interest of their own with the ambient noise getting some nice coverage in all speakers (especially with the wind and nature sounds), although they seem to be pinpointed from each speaker rather than becoming part of the room.  Nonetheless, you can turn up your 5.1 system safe in the knowledge that you won't be blown apart by any explosions (because there aren't any!).  Notably, all the soundtracks contain exactly the same music and SFX with the only difference being the language spoken.

By the way, one of the loudest instances of the sub-woofer was when the Tibetian horns were being blown - disconcerting to say the least!

Extras
The booklet found only in the R4 release provides a rough 'n' ready account of the locations used and the challenges faced by cast and crew for the filming.

Unfortunately, the Music Video is not included (which is only found on the R3 release), however you can still hear the song in the movie's end credits with the relevant English/Mandarin variant in the soundtrack you have chosen to listen to.  And, just like in the movie, the song has so much more emotional resonance in its original Mandarin language, whereas the English translation was obviously very hard on the singer to pull off just to get the words right and is lacking in the same emotional response - I'm sure Coco-Lee tried her hardest, though.

The 20min Making-Of Feature (missing from the R3) is quite entertaining with some good behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, but I'd say this was more for promotional purposes than for any info that could have been provided in-depth.

The Audio Commentary is what shines in these extras as the director and producer go into great detail about what they went through to realise this picture.  Lots of facts and lots of trivia abound with only a few short pauses for all of us to catch our breath :).  Needs to be heard a few times.

The 13min interview with Michelle Yeoh is surprisingly informative for its length and it outshines the Making-Of for the wealth of information that is conveyed.  She obviously wants to do the prequel, too.

There are two photo galleries, one of costume design and the other which is a rolling montage of on-set photographs set to the film's score.  The Cast and Crew Bio's provide a good overview of each of their earliest and latest ventures but is limited in their filmography listing.  Finally, the International and US-(yech!) trailers are included, with two more non-CTHD trailers in R2/R4 DVDs only.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Summary
This is an unmissable film that has to be experienced at least once, as it is one of the few Martial Arts stories with a solid and cohesive plot that draws you in like no other.  The stunning visual settings in Mainland China are secondary to the emotional and personal changes that are seen in the characters over the course of the developing story.  This is all told just as ancient chinese mythology would have portrayed it, where people who have reached a level of mystical spiritualness do indeed float in the air and fight with the grace of an eagle.

Interestingly, the actors only knew a few words of Mandarin well before filming commenced.  Even after extensive dialogue coaching both Yeoh & Chow admitted to having great difficulty in delivering a convincing Mandarin accent as well as providing the brilliant acting and stunt-sequence performances - although I would never have noticed it myself in a million years.  Chow Yun Fat also states that he begged the director to just count out 1-2-3-4 etc instead of reciting the script!

Region Comparisons
And The Winner Is ...

R4 DVD (for English-speakers).  It's cheaper and is the only disc that comes with the 12-page booklet (even though the R4 & R2 DVDs are exactly the same).

R3 DVD (for Asian-speakers).  This provides two extra Asian-based dialogue dubs, Cantonese & Thai, and is the only disc to provide any sort of Asian-based subtitling (very odd considering it's a Chinese movie).  But weirder still is that the Making-Of Feature and Audio Commentary on the non-R3 discs are given Chinese subtitling!  And only the R3 disc presents the Music Video of Coco-Lee's 'A Love Before Time' (in both English and Mandarin).

The Hong Kong VCD actually contains a few more extras and featurettes and is a very sought after copy since it is now out of print.  However the movie itself is only in 4:3 Pan & Scan (which cuts the movie in half essentially).

All Region DVDs exhibit 16:9-anamorphic video in the original 2.35:1 ratio.

All Region DVDs contain English DD5.1 and Mandarin DD5.1, plus ...
- R1 DVD has extra English DD2.0 and French DD2.0 dubs
- R3 DVD has extra Cantonese DD2.0 and Thai DD2.0 dubs

All Region DVDs contain all extras detailed in overview, except ...
- R3 DVD has extra "Coco-Lee Music Video" in English & Mandarin
- R3 DVD is missing "Unleashing The Dragon" Making-Of Feature and the International Trailer (why?)

All Region DVDs contain English subtitles, plus ...
- R1 DVD has French subtitles
- R2 & R4 DVDs have 10 other language subtitles (none are Asian-based)
- R3 DVD has Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles


Links: