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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.

Set against 19th-century China's breath-taking landscape, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is the action-packed, box office smash from acclaimed director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm) featuring stunning martial arts choreography by Yuen Wo Ping (The Matrix).
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
A tale of unrequited love set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century China, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features some of the most breath-taking scenery and beautifully choreographed martial arts action ever committed to film. Chow Yun-fat plays Li Mu-bai, a Wudang warrior of legendary skill. Wudang warriors are possessed of incredible reflexes and balance, and their form of weightless Kung Fu allows them to defy gravity itself. Yu Shu-lien (Michelle Yeoh) is an equally impressive martial artist and a proud warrior who has a long history with Mu-bai. Li Mu-bai and Shu-lien have a special bond; a bond that goes deeper than friendship, yet neither can express their true feelings for the other because of their sense of duty and honour.

Li Mu-bai has entrusted his sacred sword (the Green Destiny) to Shu-lien, who is on a mission to bring it to Mu-bai’s friend, Sir Te. It is hoped that with the sword in his care the trail of blood and carnage that has plagued its history will finally come to an end. While in the care of Sir Te the Green Destiny is stolen by a thief believed to be the mysterious Jade Fox. Although confronted by Shu-lien, the thief shows remarkable skill in the art of Wudang and escapes with the sword. This draws Li Mu-bai into the fray as he attempts to uncover the thief’s true identity and return the sword to its resting place. Meanwhile, Shu-lien befriends Jen, the rebellious young daughter of a powerful governor, and over time begins to suspect that there is more to the girl than meets the eye...

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I first saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon during its UK theatrical run. I remember that it was only playing at one cinema in the whole of the city, for a limited engagement at that. Still, I'd heard such good things about it that I made the effort to attend and was rewarded with a beautifully crafted tale packed with stunning martial arts action. I also remember that around half of the audience during the screening I attended was Asian (some of whom were clearly Mandarin speakers), and it was very interesting to compare their reactions with those of the English speaking (presumably British) audience. There were a number of sniggers from the British crowd during the first action sequence, and I distinctly remember hearing some people around me complaining that it was 'unrealistic' because they were 'flying'.

Putting aside the quiet rage I felt towards these people for constantly talking during the film, it was probably the first time I’d given any real thought to the differing attitudes of Western and Eastern audiences (at least in the microcosm of the Showcase Cinema). While Western cinemagoers seem to have no problem with Batman running around in a silly costume, or Superman flying, a great many of them scoff at the weightless Kung Fu presented in Crouching Tiger and its wuxia brethren. As someone who grew up watching a fairly wide variety of films, including fantasy martial arts, I was probably better prepared for the exploits depicted in the film. As far as I'm concerned the characters are no different to our own mythological heroes, be they historical or contemporary.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Now I'm not trying to sound ‘cool’ with the above statement, but over the years I’ve heard numerous comments from people who either disliked the film or flat-out refused to watch it after learning about the wire-assisted action scenes. If you fall into either of those camps I would urge you to take another (or first) look at Crouching Tiger with the same kind of approach that you would take to any Western superhero movie. When you accept that the fantastical elements are only a small component of the film you will find that there is much more on offer. It explores themes of (ultimately tragic) love, honour and duty, and was the film most responsible for rekindling my waning interest in Asian cinema as a whole. Without Crouching Tiger I would most likely have missed out on features such as Hero, Battle Royale and Oldboy (to name just three), which will always guarantee the film a special place in my heart.

Those of you who have already purchased this release may understand the disappointment that I felt when I first received it. For those not in the know, an unfortunate mastering error saw the new release arrive with the 2009 content, which meant an old visual transfer, TrueHD audio and no new extras. Thankfully Sony was quick to rectify the issue and sent replacement discs within a couple of weeks, along with a free Blu-ray from a limited selection by way of an apology. Hopefully by the time you read this the defective stock will have been recalled and replaced, but if you bought a copy on release day that you’ve yet to open it’s probably a good idea to check it sooner rather than later.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Video


The first Blu-ray release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a pretty decent effort, but there was undoubtedly room for improvement. This new release is derived from a fresh 4K scan and betters its predecessor in every respect. Where the old disc was a little on the soft side, even for a feature shot in scope, the 2016 edition provides a nice bump in overall clarity (particularly fine details). There’s also plenty of natural film grain on show, which is finely resolved thanks to the 4K oversampling. Perhaps the most noticeable change is that of the colour palette, which is warmer than the old disc overall. Whereas the 2009 effort pushed towards red, the 2016 disc tends towards yellow (perhaps a little too much at times), while primaries are noticeably more nuanced this time around. Truth be told the grading does occasionally look a little too modern, but I found it to be an improvement overall. Shadow detail is good, perhaps even slightly better than the previous release, which is important given the number of sequences that are set at night. The image is also very clean with little to no signs of digital processing.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Audio


The US release of the film includes Dolby Atmos (which down-mixes to TrueHD 7.1), but the UK edition is limited to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This is most likely to accommodate the number of dubs required to allow Sony to use one disc for the whole of Europe, as is often the case. Both Mandarin and English lossless audio options are available, but the dub really isn’t of a particularly high standard. I’m led to believe that native Mandarin speakers were horrified by some of the non-native actors’ accents (Chow Yun-fat in particular), but as an English speaker I remain blissfully unaware.

The track handles the subtleties of the mix with aplomb. Very little actually happens for a good chunk of the first act, at least of a showy nature. Effects are limited to general ambience, which are conveyed with gentle precision. Dialogue is rendered cleanly and remains a consistently well-balanced element in the mix throughout the entirety of the feature. When things do finally kick into gear with the opening rooftop skirmish the track suddenly becomes a lot more dynamic, and things continue in that vein with the rest of the action sequences. Fidelity is marvellous; there’s real clarity at the high end, with every clash of swords ringing loud and true, while the subwoofer delivers strong (but never overpowering) low end in the form of punches, kicks and the thumping percussion of Tan Dun’s score. Speaking of the score, it’s one of my favourite elements of the mix. It’s a hauntingly beautiful affair, which is perfectly balanced to create a truly immersive experience. Although not as busy as a lot of contemporary soundtracks, Crouching Tiger still sounds very impressive on Blu-ray.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Those of you familiar with the film will probably be aware that the subtitles on the previous Blu-ray offered an alternate translation to those of the original theatrical subtitles. They were considerably less elegant than the original subs, which themselves took poetic liberties with the literal translation but were created by Lee himself. Thankfully Sony has seen fit to reinstate the original theatrical subtitles for this release, although given that their presence alone would have been a major selling point to collectors it's odd that Sony didn't make more of their inclusion. Annoyingly there are a couple of spelling/grammatical errors that weren't present in the original subtitles, but given the QC issues befalling this release I’m just glad they’re on the disc at all...

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Extras


Sony has included the bulk of the bonus material from the previous Blu-ray release, along with a selection of newly-created material. A breakdown of what's included can be found below. As best I can tell, the second audio commentary with Peter Pau is new to the UK release (it was included on some previous US releases).

  • Audio Commentary by director Ang Lee and writer/producer James Schamus
  • Audio Commentary by cinematographer Peter Pau
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - A Retrospective" featurettes
  • The Making Of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" featurette
  • A Love Before Time Music" Video (English Version)
  • A Love Before Time" Music Video (Mandarin Version)
  • A Conversation with Michelle Yeoh" featurette
  • Photo Gallery

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Overall


After the minor disappointments of the 2009 release (a sub-optimal visual transfer and unfamiliar subtitles) I’m very pleased with the remastered Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Blu-ray. When I first learned of the re-release the main draw was the new 4K transfer, but while I wouldn’t describe the visual improvements as a night and day, they are certainly appreciable. All things considered it’s hard to imagine the film looking much better with current home video technology, short of the full UHD experience that is (and I’m some way off of jumping on that particular bandwagon). While the UK misses out on the Atmos soundtrack the Master Audio track is just as capable as the impressive TrueHD affair that graced the older disc, and the new bonus content is both interesting and informative. The icing on the cake is the unadvertised inclusion of the original theatrical subtitles, some minor typographical errors aside.

More than fifteen years on the proliferation of the sort of wire-assisted martial arts exemplified in Crouching Tiger may have slightly dulled its edge, but as those old enough to remember the film’s initial release will know, without it a lot what came after simply wouldn’t exist. In a number of cases that arguably wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but I honestly doubt doubt films such as Zhang Yimou’s Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, or even more recent efforts such as John Woo’s Red Cliff would have been quite so warmly received in the West without the breakout success of Ang Lee’s picture. It remains a powerful, moving piece of cinema to this day.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release 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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