Film & DVD Review
Set in the 19th centuryr, China, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon follows two martial-arts masters Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), as they battle against evil forces to regain the stolen Green Destiny word and defeat long time foe Jade Fox. To succeed they must overcome an unknown warrior, the supremely skilled Jen (Zhang Ziyi), who is fighting against an arranged marriage. In the process Li is torn between his deep and long-denied feelings for Yu, and his wish to tame and teach Jen.
Well, there aren't too many films from the East which have the effect this film has had on the world, and in particular the western world. I don't think I can remember ANY foreign language film which almost everyone was desperate to see, except Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and for this the people behind the publicity should be commended. I really like, actually, I love this film for several reasons, 1) It is a VERY good film, from the story to the acting to the action it is always entertaining and gripping, 2) Since seeing her in Police Story 3, I've thought that Michelle Yeoh is the ultimate kick ass women, and is pretty damn pleasing on the eye too, and in this film there is no exception, 3) After seeing this film I now think that Zhang Ziyi is right up there with Michelle Yeoh in the kick ass factor, although not quite as good, but she is more pleasing on the eye, so it does balance out! In fact she is nothing short of out right gorgeous. Lastly 4) because this is the first martial arts film from the East which has gone on to become a huge hit. Had Hollywood tried to make this film it would have been a disaster. With more people in the western world realising that Hollywood's martial arts films just cannot compare to Asian martial arts films, I'm hoping that there will be a much larger influx of films from that part of the world gracing the cinema screen over here. If this does happen, I'm sure that this will have been a knock on effect from the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon phenomena.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself... anyone?"
This paragrpah is an edit in and was written well over a year after I initially wrote the rest of the review, which was not long after the R2 DVD was released. On the downside however, with the popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a lot of US companies who have no respect for the films (read Miramax, Di$ney, Beuna Vista), have bought the rights to large numbers of excellent Asian films and, if they even release them at all, most of their releases have been outrageous. Most of them have been dubbed ONLY, which is a disgrace on a medium like DVD, they have been cut heavily to "Westernise" and "improve" the pace of the film, and in many cases have been rescored too. In short, do not EVER buy an Asian film if it is being distributed by and of the companies mentioned. If the original audio track (most likely Cantonese for most Hong Kong films) is not there, then it is likely everything else will have been editted as well, so avoid it.
"Oooooh. Fancy pattern!"
Anyway, enough of the soapbox speech, and onto the film itself. If you do not know what it is about then, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS?? There is a lot to the film's story, as there are many sub-plots to the rather simple main plot. The main plot is that Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) is growing tired of his warrior lifestyle, and would like to start to think about settling down. With this in mind he gives his famous sword, the Green Destiny, to his love Yu Shu Lien with the instructions to pass the sword on to to his friend Sir Te. However, no sooner has the sword been entrusted to his possession than it is stolen. Needless to say once Li Mu Bai hears of this, despite his permanently amazingly calm exterior, it is clear that he would like the sword to be returned. The rest of the film is about Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien trying to get the sword back, the consequences from these actions, and the other discoveries that make on the way. A large part of the film focuses on Jen (Zhang Ziyi) and her past, and despite Michele Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat having higher billings on the credit list than her, believe me SHE is the star of film.
"It's the old 'hair-in-front-of-face-to-mesmerise-opponent' move!"
It wouldn't take a genious to figure out that there are a lot of other intricacies and points to the film's story, but there is absolutely no way in which I am going to divulge them as that would ruin part of the beauty of the film. As you probably will have read in other places concerning this film, there are two distinct sides to the story - the action and the romance. The romance side has two couples, Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien, and Jen and Lo (Chang Chen). Mu Bai and Shu Lien are both warriors, who have a very deep love for each other, but their training and their duty has never let them express it in a way which they would like, and with the Green Destiny being stolen and everything that happens as a result, they encounter more obsticles keeping from expressing their love for each other.
"Tough chick, with a sword. Just don't mess, right?"
With Jen and Lo it is more of a forbidden love. Jen has an arranged marriage planned, but she is not in love with her husband. Lo is a desert thief, who only met Jen because he and his men robbed them. Jen in her stubbornness wanted the comb that he stole from her back, and so pursued him in to the desert. However she got lost and dehydrated, and so Lo took her in and nursed her back to health. Over time things started to change from hatred to love. But now, with her arranged marriage, Jen wants to be with Lo, and Lo wants to be with Jen, and like I've already stated, Jen is a stubborn girl...
"Aaah. That cool feeling of wind through the hair!"
On the action side of things, this film is one of many that adopts the philosophy that if you are a martial arts master you have ability to pretty much fly. Films which are like this tend to be classed as Wuxia films. While it is not exactly realistic, it is excusable as the whole thing is a fantasy epic, and the manner in which the 'flying' is handled fits in perfectly with the whole mood of the film. The choreography is by Yuen Wo Ping, martial arts film veteren and probably the most famous of all fight scene choreographers. The fights are spectacular to watch, in particular the two between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. The first, in the courtyard has brilliant hand and foot work, while the second in the dojo displays their incredible weapons capabilities. The speed at which they can swing the swords about and fight each other is simply breath taking. You cannot help but admire the amount of time and effort that they would have to have spent honing their skills down so well. Granted Zhang Ziyi is not a martial artist, but she can act like one very well! The other fight scenes between Zhang Ziyi and pretty much everyone who comes her way are also of top notch quality, I think, as is the park fight between Jade Fox and the policeman. The balance of story and action is almost perfect, I personally would have liked to see Michelle Yeoh involved a bit more, as although she is in the two best fight scenes in the film, they are her only two fight scenes. Someone of her amazing ability should have been used more, although if you had used all the actors and actresses as much as their ability merited, there would have been nothing left in the film except fighting! Basically the action quality of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is superb.
"Ever get the feeling you're all alone?"
What I have read as a complaint about the fight scenes in this film, on other websites, is that during the fights there are no snaps, pows or thuds which usually accompany punches and kicks in other martial art films. Apparently the lack of these gives the impression that the strikes are not that powerful. Personally I disagree, I think not having the fight sound effects is a breath of fresh air in fight scenes as those noises do not happen in real life! I personally would not like to be on the receiving end of a kick or punch from Ziyi or Yeoh, and I think that their strikes looked powerful enough!
"If only it was brighter, you could see my cool pose better!"
I've seen several Michelle Yeoh films, and many more Chow Yun Fat films, and while I have always been astounded by their action ability, it was not until Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that I realised how good and actress and actor they are. Michelle Yeoh in particular is superb here, from being very strong and tough, she can become highly vulnerable and emotional. It is difficult for me to judge the acting as I cannot understand Mandarin, but the emotions that she portrays in her body language and facial expressions would be clear to a blind man. It is the power of her acting, and indeed the rest of the cast's, coupled with the chemistry between Shu Lien and Mu Bai that make the film a spectacular story. I've not even mentioned the cinematography yet, or the stunning visual landscapes that are present in places. I could sing the praises of this film for a long time, but I've done enough already. The rest if up to you to find out yourself.
"Speaking of cool poses..."
Audio & Subtitles
The dvd comes with two audio tracks, one is the original language - Mandarin - the other is a dubbed english track. So I'll promptly ignore the latter! Being a year 2000 film I would not expect anything less than perfection when it comes to the sound here. There would be no excuse for a degradation in sound from the cinema release. Alas (edit: at time of writing) I do not have a 5.1 sound system, yet, some day I will, and I'll be able to hear things as if I was at the cinema, but to me the sound here is still top notch. The spoken word is perfectly clear and in synchronisation with the moving lips. Effects wise, everything is also perfectly crisp and clear, from the sound of the rain to the whistling of the wind. It is as good as you could hope for coming from TV speakers. This paragrpah will be editted once I watch the film again, now that I have a 5.1 system.
"I'm in black, and I'm doing the splits up a wall. Impressed?"
The subtitles are very good as well. They are bold and clearly legible on the screen, regardless if the screen is light. Spelling and grammar wise I do not remember seeing any mistakes at all, which you really would expect for such a high profile release. What I will say about them, however, is that in places there has been a bit of 'Anglising' of the dialogue, and some simplification of what is being said. I am not too sure of the exact instances which I am referring to here, but before I owned this region 2 release, I had bought the Hong Kong region 3 release, and I do remember that in the final scene between Mu Bai and Shu Lien, the subtitles between the two versions differed. The region 2's were much simpler than how I remember the Hong Kong verion's being. While the slightly different text in the subtitles is a little disappointing, very little of the power of the film was taken away from this change. Mu Bai's final words and Shu Lien's responses might not have had the same amount of emotion in them, but the point was still clear. The slight difference aside, the subtitles are as good as any other film's which I have seen.
Guy on left: "And presenting to my right..."
Again as the film was only made in 2000, there would be absolutely no excuse for having grain or flickering on the screen in this film. Thankfully there isn't any, or at least any which I can remember. The picture quality is superb. The clarity of the picture, the strength of the colours, the depth of the black's: it is all there in perfection. The detail which is still visible is astounding. Quite often on other dvds the really fine details can quite often become slightly blurred, but on this everything is crystal clear and quite simply it looks incredible.
"Fighting at midnight... what will the kids think?"
DVD & Extras
The film comes with nicely animated menus. The main menu features scenes from Jen and Shu Lien's dojo weapons fight, which certainly sets the mood. Extras there is a "Unleashing the Dragon: The Making of" featurette, which is a great watch to see how they did everything, especially the tree top fight. There is a feature length commentary from Ang Lee and the film's producer. There is a Conversation with Michelle Yeoh featurette, which I personally found fascinating. Hearing about the injuries which she obtained while amking the film, and in general hearing her speak english, and realising just how fluent she is, to me this also shows that even though she is an action star, she is also very intelligent and multi-lingual. There are also 2 trailers, a Photo Gallery, Weblink, Filmographies and your other regulars like language choice, subtitle choice and chapter selection. So on the whole a good host of extra to keep you occupied and entertained!
"Dark lighting, a little wet looking - my sultry side..."
What I do find very strange, though is the front cover. It features Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. While in itself there is nothing wrong with this, the Hong Kong version of the film which I owned had those three in exactly the same position and pose, but it also featured Chang Chen above right of Michelle Yeoh and right of Zhang Ziyi. See the pictures of the covers below, region 2 on the left, region 3 on the right.
Looking more closely at the region 2 release, it is clear that Chang Chen has been deliberately removed from the picture. As you can see from the region 3 cover, the arm which Zhang Ziyi is holding in the air actually has a larger sleeve than what you see on the region 2 version, as the rest of the sleeve had to be removed at the same time as Chang Chen! Maybe he is just not well known enough in the west to be allowed to feature on the front cover, who knows? But it certainly is a slap in the face for him.
"That sword is not going to bloody touch me!"
Well if you haven't guessed already, I really like this film. To me, everything about it is superb. There is a very strong story, which you don't get in that many action films, really good fight scenes, great acting, strong characters, coupled with a brilliant dvd transfer and excellent extras on the disc. There is nothing that I can give it poor marks for. All I can hope is that more films from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and the like get the attention and praise which they deserve, and western audiences start realising what they are missing.
"But I really can't stop staring at that growth on your neck!"
Buy this film at