Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (SE) /B+, B+
Columbia/2000/120/ANA 2.35

     What's all this noise about a Hong Kong martial arts flick? Aficionados of the genre have long appreciated the acrobatic flying sword fights and martial arts displays, but by bringing, in especially artful fashion, to a mainstream audience, director Ang Lee does indeed fly with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
    The story is simplistic enough. Legendary swordsman Li Mu-Bi decides its time to re-evaluate his life and gives his famed sword Green Dragon to  trusted friend and wise politician Sir Te.  Fellow warrior and would-be lover Yu Shu Lien delivers the sword for Li. When a powerful governor visits, the sword disappears from it's place of honor in Sir Te's sanctuary. Yu Shu Lien uses her martial arts and feminine wiles to recover the sword, but it takes Li,  returning from a visit to his master's grave, to recover the prized weapon. Jen, the governor's daughter, only has eyes for the weapon and setting out on life of road warrior. Shady Jade Fox, a rogue warrior who poisoned Li Mu-Bai's master, has influenced Jen to the point of confusion and Lo, a desert bandit in love with Jen wants her to spend the rest of her life under the stark sun of his home.  The big questions are: will Jen run away with Lo; can Li Mu-Bai revenge his master's murder; will Yu Shu Lien and Li Mu-Bai lived happily ever after.

Clashing swords, smoldering egos. ©Columbia

    I don't think the story-telling is what makes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon special, but rather the execution of director Ang Lee. Lee is more restrained than the typical director of a Chinese sword-fighting epic adventure. Ang focuses on the poetry of the fighting, the elements of romance and ties it all together with splendid production design and simply exquisite cinematography. The score features Kodo-like drum riffs accompanying the more beautiful fights. They actually are choreographed more like dances than screen fights. Yuen Wo-Ping. who is responsible for many fine Chinese action movie choreography and also did The Matrix, delivers the goods for director Lee. Tan Yun music moves between romance and action effortlessly. Peter Pau's photography is often breathtaking. And Tim Yip's production design seals the success of the package.
    Chow Yun-Fat wields his sword with confidence as Li Mu-Bai. Chow's brisk charm is kept under wraps as he plays Li with a straight-laced dignity. Michelle Yeoh is a trifle too dour as Yu Shu Lien for my taste. Zhang Ziyi is very appealing as Jen and Chang Chen provides some lusty romantic impulses as Lo.
     Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon graces DVD with its extraordinary beauty. There's a hint of enhancement going on that keeps the DVD from achieving reference levels. It's not obvious, happily, but it creates a faint hint of excess information in the picture. Overall, the picture is very sharp and there is an outstanding sense of dimension. Colors are rich; perhaps red tends very slightly toward orange. The night segments are lustrous, but might have been slightly more punchy. Still, shadow detail is clear and mood is maintained. The Dolby Digital 5:1 Mandarin track is encoded with excellent space and ambient detail. The drums have tight, quick impact. Removable yellow English subtitles are easy to read and well set over the image. The more delicate sounds hang int he air. The menu animated menu screens may be fun, but it means slower set-up navigation.
    Columbia has packaged Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as a special edition featuring audio commentary from director Ang Lee and writer James Schamus. A making of special from Bravo, Unleashing the Dragon, looks behind the production, and an video interview with Michelle Yeoh completes the heart of the presentation.







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