A film that combines two fantastic lead actors, wonderful martial arts scenes and an entertaining story, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is one of the most impressive films I've seen in quite some time. Only rarely does the film slow up in the middle, but this is a very minor complaint. Director Ang Lee has certainly taken on a number of very different films - some excellent ("Sense and Sensibility") and some not quite as good ("Ride With The Devil"), but "Crouching" is, in my opinion, his most enjoyable and entertaining work.
The film begins with Li Mu Bai(Chow Yun-Fat), a legendary warrior, planning to retire from battle, giving up his legendary Green Destiny sword. Before long though, the sword gets stolen in an impressively staged night chase through the streets (and across the rooftops) of the city. With friend (who he has unspoken love for) Shu Lien(Michelle Yeoh), he sets off to find the sword's thief - whether it be the legendary criminal Jade Fox, or Jen, a politican's daughter who has sword skills, but - in "Star Wars" terms - she's crossed over to the dark side.
The film's central tale is essentially nothing particularly new, but as done by Lee and acted by a wonderful group of leads, it manages to be fresh and new, if not always exciting. The fight scenes are certainly thrilling, it's just that there's a couple of stretches towards the middle of Lee's film where it slows up a little; some slight editing may have tighted the pace a bit. Even when the film's pace slows up a little, the film's cinematography remains breathtaking, with numerous shots of scenery that is simply beautiful.
And then, there are the fight sequences. The film is not action sequences throughout the picture, but the several sequences included are stunning. Choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping, who also did similar work with "The Matrix", these scenes allow the actors to walk up walls and fly from rooftop to rooftop. Those looking for more intense fight sequences should check out "Twin Warriors" (currently on DVD) a film starring Yeoh and Jet Li, directed by Yuen Wo-Ping, which features fantastic fight sequences at a rate of what seems to be every few minutes.
But, in terms of "Crouching Tiger", I hope I haven't given too much away because there's a lot in the film that will suprise and entertain if left unknown before watching. Simply, there's something for everyone here; I think both the almost dance-like fight scenes and fine performances will have universal appeal, although some of the violence may scare younger viewers.
VIDEO: This DVD version presents the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it is anamorphic. Aside from a few little problems here and there, I was impressed at how good the picture often looked. Sharpness and detail are first-rate and there's even a nice depth to the picture during many of the scenes. Clarity is strong, and even in the darker scenes (of which the picture has many), the picture remains crisp and detailed.
There are some little problems here and there, although nothing that took me out of the experience of watching the movie. Print flaws were the only problem I found a little distracting at times - no major wear, but a couple of slight speckles and marks that appeared on a few occasions. I noticed no instances of pixelation, although one or two very light hints of edge enhancement.
Colors are natural and often beautiful, as the film contains some absolutely breathtaking scenery at times. Although not quite perfect, this is an excellent transfer from Columbia/Tristar that will certainly satisfy fans of the movie.
SOUND: This version contains both a Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation and an English Dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. Although I know that many are against "dubbed" versions (I'd agree), this is definitely better than "dubbed" soundtracks usually sound, in my opinion.
Anyways, "Crouching Tiger" presents an excellent audio experience. The thrilling and elegant score from Tan Dun and Yo-Yo Ma sounds wonderfully rich and full, often enveloping the viewer and filling the listening space with deep, bold music. There's also some nice ambient sounds on occasion during some of the outdoor scenes. The action scenes provide further surround use that's appropriate and effective. Audio quality in general is excellent, with wonderful clarity and good bass.
MENUS:: Hey, there's even great menus!. There's a clip from the movie to introduce the main menu, slight animation behind the main menu and clips as transitions between the menus! Fun stuff and even some sub-menus for things like the talent files contain some great animated backgrounds.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Ang Lee and producer James Schamus. Although I generally enjoy the experience of listening to commentaries, I didn't particularly care much for this one. Schamus generally plays interviewer and doesn't always do a particularly entertaining job of it. The general tone of the discussion seems strangely goofy at times (Schamus jokingly complains about the lack of action in the opening of the film), but there's still some interesting information that comes out of the proceedings. Early on, Lee talks about visiting a hardware store to get some of the sounds used in the movie, for example. The two also do a fine job talking about working with the actors as well as the music and style of the movie. There's some discussion of the fight sequences, although I would have liked to hear a bit more (as well as have a documentary about the preparation for the fight sequences, which would have made a great extra but isn't found on this DVD). It's generally an interesting track, that covers quite a bit of ground. The sort of goofy tone of the track is sometimes amusing, but there were times when it got annoying. Worth a listen, though.
Trailer: Both the US trailer (full-frame/2.0) and the International Trailer(1.85:1/2.0). I liked the international trailer, which I'd never seen before, a lot better.
Interview: This is a fairly interesting interview with "Crouching Tiger" star Michelle Yeoh, where she gives a low-key chat, offering her feelings about the role and the film in general. Runs a little under 14 minutes.
Photo Montage: This is a moving photo montage with the score in the background. Lasts a little under 7 minutes.
Unleashing Dragons: Making Of...: This is a 21 minute special that aired on Bravo. It's not one of the best documentary features that I've seen included on disc as an extra, but it's a small step above the usual promotional feature. The interviews are generally interesting, but sometimes fall back to talking about the basics - such as general story details. I was happy to see some information about the fighting sequences and how those were done, but I would have liked to have see more of those kind of production details and less promotional tidbits.
Also: Talent files, production notes (in insert).
Final Thoughts:asily one of the best films of 2000, "Crouching Tiger" is a film well worth seeing on DVD. Tristar's DVD provides excellent audio/video and a few good extras.