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: I suppose this is as good a place as any to discuss the studio's new "Superbit" line. The studio's experts in the DVD transfer department have come up with a line of "pure performance" DVDs. All of the supplemental material has been dropped in order to give the audio and video information the maximum amount of possible space on the DVD, allowing the video presentation especially to be presented at a higher bit-rate for what should be maximum picture quality. I have to say that I remain a little less pleased with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"'s presentation than I was when I originally reviewed it several months ago. It's still a fine effort, but although the "Superbit" presentation does provide some minor improvements, some of those same faults from the original still tend to show through.
Sharpness and detail were where I felt the picture showed the main improvement. Although not by any enormous level, the picture did appear noticably more well-defined and smoother throughout the movie. Darker sequences were especially crisper, offering a stronger amount of visual information. Fine details of background scenery and sets are also noticably sharper here than they were on the original.
Still, some of the flaws that plagued the original return here. Some slight edge enhancement is visible during a few sequences - although this didn't prove to be a major distraction, it did provide some minor concerns at times. The other complaint that I wrote about the original is also evident here once again - there are several scenes that have some noticable, if not major, print flaws. These include some light speckles, a couple of marks and the occasional scratch.
Colors still appeared rich, lively and vibrant throughout the presentation. The film's costumes, the greenery of the lush and beautiful backgrounds and the stunning sets still offered rich, beautiful colors here. Colors appeared well-rendered, with no instances of smearing or other problems. Black level was slightly stronger and richer here and flesh tones remained accurate and natural. While the "Superbit" edition of the film is a noticable visual improvement in some regards, I still would have liked for the print flaws that have returned here to be cleaned up for this edition.
The "Superbit" process doesn't seem to have kept the studio from putting on lots of subtitle options, though. The film is presented with English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles.
AUDIO: The "Superbit" edition of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" presents the film in both DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 in the film's original Chinese language. The English dubbed 5.1 track that the filmmakers reportedly worked a great deal on is not included. Although I agree that any dubbed edition is certainly not optimal (and occasionally, the English dubbed editions are downright poor), the English dubbed edition of "Crouching Tiger" was probably the best attempt at a "dubbed" version of a film that I've heard.
The film's soundtrack was a terrific experience on the original edition of the DVD and it remains a rich and entertaining soundtrack again here. Although the film itself does not provide consistent action, during the film's subtler moments, enjoyable ambient sounds and the film's terrific score really are nicely presented by the surrounds. The film's score is really one of its best elements; dynamic and intense during the action sequences, while haunting and elegant during the quieter moments.
Whether or not the DTS soundtrack provides improvement over the Dolby Digital 5.1 will likely be of interest for many who are considering a purchase. The answer is that the two soundtracks really do sound very much alike, although there are a few minimal differences. The more dramatic passages of the score seemed to be richer and more powerful and the overall sound quality was slightly crisper and more detailed. These differences were minor, though.
MENUS:: As with all of the Superbit titles, the menus look very basic and have no animation or other touches at all.
EXTRAS:: As with all "Superbit" editions, there are no extras, which have been dropped for optimal audio/video.
Final Thoughts: I have mixed feelings about the "Superbit" line and I think they'll vary from title-to-title. Although I'm certainly not entirely negative about the line, I can understand where many who seem to be are coming from. DVD buyers, over the past year or two, have been presented with "Ultimate", "Collector's" or the "Super Genius" edition (bonus points if you know what DVD that comes from). To be presented with another opportunity to re-purchase a title they've already bought likely makes many weary or even irritated. Yet, I believe that the idea of maximized presentations does certainly appeal (although the differences/improvements are going to vary by how much on a case-by-case basis, as seen on these first titles in the series). I think that maybe this can be re-thought somewhat for future titles - a 2nd disc with an additional non-"Superbit" widescreen edition and paired with commentary and other features, maybe?. Either way, part of me is excited and wants to see more - anything like this that pushes the format's ability to present extremely high-quality audio/video to its limits is a welcome concept.
The titles that were originally done as rather basic affairs ("Desperado", for example) which are re-done are more appealing than titles like "Crouching Tiger", whose original disc had a fairly strong amount of extra features and an English dubbed soundtrack that don't re-appear here. I will say that this new edition of the title does provide some improvements in terms of image quality over the original, but I don't think they'll be enough for fans of the film to re-purchase the title again without many of the features of the original disc.
The Film ****