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Feature


Two master warriors (Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh) are faced with their greatest challenge when the treasured Green Destiny sword is stolen. A young aristocrat (Zhang Ziyi) prepares for an arranged marriage, but soon reveals her superior fighting talents and her deeply romantic past. As each warrior battles for justice, they come face to face with their worst enemy - and the inescapable, enduring power of love. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, Hong Kong action cinema enjoyed a minor popularity surge in North American theaters. The trend arguably began when Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx (directed by Stanley Tong, 1995) was a surprise hit stateside, prompting Miramax/Dimension Films to release re-edited and dubbed versions of Chan’s older films, including Tong’s Police Story 3: Super Cop (under the title Super Cop, 1992), Chan’s Armour of God II: Operation Condor (under the title Operation Condor, 1991), and Lau Kar-leung/Chan’s Drunken Master II (under the title Legend of the Drunken Master, 1994). Other new Chan films also hit US theaters, followed by medium budget Jet Li vehicles – Daniel Lee’s Black Mask (1996), Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die (2000), James Wong’s The One (2001), and others. Meanwhile, superstar choreographer/director Yuen Woo-ping was hired to put his expert twist on Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 4 and, more famously, the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy. Following the good press, Yuen’s 1993 masterpiece as director, Iron Monkey, was given a Miramax theatrical roll-out in 2001, complete with a Quentin Tarantino seal of approval. Tarantino then used Yuen’s expertise for the two Kill Bill movies (2003/04), which would be the last two Hollywood-produced movies he choreographed (Rob Minkoff’s The Forbidden Kingdom, 2008, was a Chinese/American co-production).

Most of these films were genre pieces and glorified B-movies and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of this – in fact, wuxia enthusiasts appreciate the genre trappings and formulaic storytelling – but sophisticate Western critics were still quick to dismiss the mini-movement, until one of the world’s most celebrated international filmmakers, Ang Lee, made an arthouse and mainstream-friendly “wire-fu” classic called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film, which was choreographed by Yuen, won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (and Bafta), Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing. It changed the international trajectory of the genre, paving the way for other lavish, arthouse-friendly hits from Zhang Yimou ( Hero, 2002; House of Flying Daggers, 2004; and Curse of the Golden Flower, 2006) and made so much money that it changed the perception of American as the only dominant film market (something that has resonated a lot in the past decade, as Hollywood blockbusters do their best to placate Asian audiences). Sixteen years later, it’s still a breathtaking and heart-wrenching spectacle, not to mention a great starting place for budding wuxia enthusiasts. In addition to its common themes and plot threads, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon introduces unknowing audiences to the balletic dream logic of Yuen’s wire-assisted battles, the dramatic ranges of actors Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-fat, and underrated kung-fu expert Cheng Pei-pei – the star of King Hu’s 1966 classic Come Drink with Me.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Video


Sony is slowly updating their catalogue titles for 4K screening, streaming, and Ultra HD Blu-ray. And what better title to include in their earliest run of 4K remasters than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Other than Lawrence of Arabia, I guess. Those of us that are still clinging to the Blu-ray format are also benefitting, because the new transfer has also been downgraded to 1080p and it is an improvement over the already decent 2010 BD release (they were originally referring to it part of their Supreme Cinema Series, but it appears that they’ve forgotten about that banner).

Looking at the comparison caps I’ve supplied – 4K remaster on the top, original BD on the bottom – the most obvious differences are in colour timing and grading. This new transfer is darker and slightly warmer, turning the lavender skin tones somewhat orange. The colour timing is a definite improvement, otherwise. Lighting sources have a softer glow against the dark blue backdrops and daylight sequences display a wider range of colours. The darker tint does create some minor crushing and makes it a bit hard to discern some of the night shots. However, if you click on each screen cap and zoom-in, so that they display in their proper size, the older transfer seems overly boosted and the remaster shows more subtle dynamic range. A closer look also reveals crisper wide-angle details and more realistic close-up textures/patterns. The sharpness of the new scan leads to a bit more grain, especially in cool/neutral and dark backgrounds, but this appears more accurate to my eyes than the somewhat over-smoothed 2010 release. I’m not sure if the version was the victim of slight DNR or just a weaker scan. The only negative side effect of the graininess is minor edging artefacts along the hardest black lines (I’m reasonably sure this isn’t an over-sharpening issue). I did notice was some very minor ghosting during the Gobi Desert-set fight that may just be the artefacts of older digital effects.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Audio


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has gotten a bit of an audio upgrade, too. The original Mandarin soundtrack is now presented in Dolby Atmos, though this review will pertain to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. The older release wasn’t exactly lacking in the audio department, especially considering that Atmos & DTS:X weren’t options at the time, so these improvements are incredibly subtle for those of us that don’t have the four ceiling speakers. The extra speakers aren’t really necessary, given that this is not a particularly effects-heavy movie, but the increased clarity and separation does help to fill out crowd scenes and punch-up the fisticuffs (pun intended, obviously). Jen’s teahouse-crumbling battle and her lady-on-lady fight with Yu are the track’s two biggest standout moments. Tan Dun’s Yo-Yo Ma assisted, Oscar-winning score is the track’s most dynamic element, from its delicate cello tones to its LFE-bouncing percussion. If you like the English dub – and it definitely isn’t the worst English dub I’ve ever heard – then you can listen to it in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (this is the first time I’ve ever seen a disc with both a Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD MA soundtrack, for whatever that’s worth).

As often occurs with foreign language releases, there is some controversy surrounding the subtitles. Apparently, the subs that appeared on theatrical prints were personally edited by Lee and the North American home video subtitles, which were included on the previous Blu-ray, were slightly different and thus not preferred (I think, because neither is a literal translation). Based on three examples of differences between the theatrical and original BD subtitles (and three examples doesn’t equate an entire movie worth of subtitles, of course), this new release seems to have the preferred (?) theatrical subs.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Extras


  • Archive commentary with Ang Lee and executive producer/co-screenwriter James Schamus
  • Archive commentary with Cinematographer Peter Pau
  • Six deleted scenes (7:49, HD) – These have been fully restored in 4K as well. There aren’t any huge revelations here, but these scenes do fill out the back-story and expanded some of the supporting characters.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – A Retrospective (1:21:29 including intros, HD):
    • In Conversation with Ang Lee – Critic Tasha Robinson of The Verge goes in-depth with the director on his inspirations, the martial arts genre in general, challenging himself with an action project, the melodrama of kung fu, his cast, and making a movie that works for both Eastern and Western audiences.
    • In Conversation with editor Tim Squyres – Squyres discusses his history working with Lee, the challenges of editing in Mandarin as an English speaker, the differences between cutting drama and action, and sound effects editing.
    • In Conversation with James Schamus – In this last conversation, Robinson and Schamus chat about developing and marketing an Ang Lee wuxia movie, developing the script with Lee, and the current state of international filmmaking (his take is positive).
  • The Making of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (19:02, SD) – The original behind-the-scenes EPK.
  • “A Love Before Time” music video in both English and Mandarin (3:48, SD)
  • A Conversation with Michelle Yeoh (13:49, SD) – An interview with the actress conducted for the original DVD/BD releases.
  • Photo gallery


 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Overall


Looking back, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has aged beautifully and will probably continue to age beautifully over the next sixteen years. Sony’s 4K rehaul is a nice upgrade, though there 1080p Blu-ray obviously compresses the new image, compared to the actual 4K UltraHD release. The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack will likely thrill those few folks that have Atmos capabilities and the subtitles appear to match the original theatrical release (though I’d like to reiterate that the difference is minor and I only spot checked three lines of dialogue). The extras are fronted by almost eight minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes and the original release’s dual commentary tracks. The new interviews are a little dry, but feature some new information not otherwise found on the commentaries.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

* Note: The above images are taken from the 4K Restoration (top) and original Sony (bottom) Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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