PictureCrouching Tiger was shot on a relative shoestring budget, but between Ang Lee's eye for beauty and a little care and attention on the presentation, the Blu-ray video rendition, in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, looks - for the most part - pretty good. Detail is generally better than we have ever seen before, from the intricacies of the outfits to the makeup and expressions. There is a little edge enhancement, although no haloing. Noise is largely variable - some scenes seem completely devoid of it, almost pristine in condition, others seem tolerably lightly hazy, others still seem mottled by it, although for the most part it is forgivable. The colour scheme is extremely broad and vibrant, with rich reds and greens from costumes and forestry amidst the generally brown desert-like landscapes. Oddly, the blacks appear to be the best aspect of the track, the darker scenes generally marking those that come across best in the presentation, with shadowing superb and only a little crushing. As soon as the sun sets after the first quarter of an hour of introduction (and we head towards the first action sequence) the picture becomes unquestionably what we would expect from the High Def format and this marks a definitive upgrade from the previous SD releases.
SoundOn the aural front we get a stomping Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that really shows off the potency of this powerful score. Dialogue (irrespective of the jibes about various cast members' accents coming through whilst speaking the dialect, to a non-speaker the language sounds beautiful and perfect for the piece) comes across clearly and coherently, largely from the fronts and centre channels. The effects are mostly exaggerated fighting sounds (we're not talking anything silly here) - sword slashing and ringing, blows and magical leaps all carrying with them the requisite effect, and in turn giving the surrounds some material to work with. Directionality is not often evident, mainly because there is little to warrant it, but that does not stop this sounding superb, although a great deal of the thanks for this should go to the superior scoring itself, a mellifluous, haunting accompaniment to the breathtaking visuals. With powerful cello-work and relentless drum beats, it is easily the most memorable of scores within the whole Wuxia genre, and within Ang Lee's filmography too. Giving all the speakers some attention, the score itself certainly is the best aspect of this track too, which is also a marked improvement over previous renditions of the mix.
ExtrasWe get a few nominal extras to round off the disc. The audio commentary by the Director Ang Lee and his long-time collaborator, producer James Schamus is interesting enough, with them talking about the wonders worked on the modest budget, the language difficulties, the locations they shot in and various other often technically dry titbits. The discussions are often quite reflective, and can meander into the territory of them just watching and observing the on-screen antics, but fans will still probably be tempted to sit through it for the few moments that really offer insight into the landmark production. A Conversation with Michelle Yeoh offers nearly 14 minutes of the elegant actress's opinions on the movie, from working with the acclaimed director to starring alongside the charismatic Chow Yun-Fat. It is a shame that some of this could not have been incorporated into a Commentary, but this is an interesting enough interview. The Unleashing the Dragon Featurette gives us seventeen minutes of behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interview snippets as well but it really is nothing more than your standard EPK making-of featurette, occasionally playing more like an extended trailer than anything of real value, and rounding out with a brief three minute look at the amazing score. Finally we get a Photo Gallery which plays through a cycle of standout shots, both behind the scenes and promotional.
VerdictReturning you to an age of honour, respect and breathtaking martial arts capabilities, I was happy to pretend that it was just a cinematically engaging 'enhanced' depiction of what might have been possibly several hundreds of years ago. And it was beautiful. Arguably the great Chow Yun-Fat's best movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is superior storytelling and superb action at the hands of visually captivating director Ang Lee. With a near-perfect score, noteworthy performances and plenty to keep you engaged and intrigued throughout this really is a modern classic. And on Blu-ray it finally gets something like the treatment it deserves, with decent video, superior audio and a few extras rounding off a disc that has earned its place in everybody's collection. Recommended blind-buy for those unfamiliar with this genre, as it clearly transcends the Wuxia label, and for fans you really shouldn't have read this far without already adding it to your shopping basket. Tremendous stuff.
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