Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or Wo Hu cang long) was something of a surprise hit upon its release in 2000-2001. Made for a mere $15,000,000, the look of the movie suggests a budget far greater than this. It ended up taking more than $200,000,000 worldwide. As well as being a huge commercial success, it was critically acclaimed as well, It won four Oscars at the 2001 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Music (original score) and Best Art Direction. Ang Lee also scooped the David Lean award for Direction at the BAFTAs.
Set in 1778 during Emperor Qianlong’s reign over China, Chow Yun-Fat plays, master swordsman, Li Mu-bai, who wants to leave his warrior lifestyle behind. Some years earlier his master was killed by Cheng Pei-pei’s Jade Fox, who wished to learn the ways of Wudang martial arts but was denied due to her gender. Mu-Bai charges Michelle Yeoh’s Yu Shu-lien with the task of escorting his sword (The Green Destiny), to his friend in Peking, Sir Te.
The sword is stolen, by a masked woman, who’s skilled in the ways of Wudang, which leads Mu-bai and Shu-lien to embark on a mission to retrieve the sword. The masked thief is the young aristocratic Jen played by Zhang Ziyi, whose arranged marriage is imminent. She steals the sword as an act of defiance, having taught herself the ways of Wudang in secret, having stolen the book from her guardian Jade Fox.
The themes of feminism and female empowerment in the face of inequality are prominent throughout the movie. Yeoh’s Shu-lien lives in acceptance of tradition at the expense of her true desires of being able to be with Mu-bai, and attempts to convince the aristocratic Jen to conform to the expectations of the society she lives in. Jen is facing an arranged marriage but is fascinated by the warrior lifestyle that Shu-lien lives and yearns for her lost love. She’s also conflicted, as she feels loyalty to Jade Fox despite being more skilled than her. She’s reluctant to accept Mu-bai’s offer to teach her. Jade Fox revolts violently against a society dominated by men by killing the man who denied her learning the ways of the Wudang.
Having started his career directing three films in his native Taiwan prior to making Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee had earned his reputation as a filmmaker of quality through a series of dramatic films in the English language. Although he won the Best Director Academy Award for Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in my opinion, is his finest achievement as a director.
When I first saw the movie I wasn’t impressed. I was into realism in movies as opposed to movies with sequences with people running through trees and generally defying the rules of gravity. Revisiting the movie after all those years, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it and realised that I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss it. Assisted greatly by beautifully choreographed fight scenes by Yuen Woo-Ping – who was also involved in the Matrix and Kill Bill movies – Lee has created a compelling movie that is visually stunning.
The transfer to Blu-Ray is excellent. From early on in the movie there’s an incredible amount of detail that can be seen on screen. It’s a little hard, at times, to make out what’s going on in the fight scenes at night, but other than that, the picture is faultless. Sound-wise the disc is very strong also – the French, Mandarin and English tracks are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. One thing worth noting, though, is that if you go to play the movie straight from the menu, you’ll be presented with the dubbed version, which is pretty rubbish. You’re best off altering it to Mandarin with subtitles.
The extras are fairly standard, with no Blu-ray exclusives – it’s the same set as you get with the DVD release, which is a little disappointing. You get an in-depth conversation with Michelle Yeoh, Unleashing The Dragon, which is a making of and a feature length commentary with Ang Lee and writer James Shamus as well as an image gallery.
My opinion of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has increased significantly. Whilst I’m still not convinced that it’s the 5 star movie it was rated as upon its original release, it’s undoubtedly a fine achievement and a worthy addition to any Blu-ray collection, despite the lack of extras.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is released on Blu-ray 6 July.