Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi
Sony Pictures Classics DVD
It may have been one of the most critically acclaimed and widely discussed films of the past year. It may have been nominated for ten Oscars (and won four). Yet I still feel that Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is underrated. Although praised, there was so much emphasis on the film’s visual style that the intricate plot, complex themes, and outstanding acting got lost in haze. Now, with the film finding a home on the U.S. on DVD, perhaps people will begin to see more in the film than just action set pieces.
Granted, the fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping is stunning, but the strength of the film is slightly beneath the surface, in the parallel relationships of the film’s protagonists. More than kung fu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is about two women who have had to make similar choices between the lives that was planned for them and following their hearts. Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) made her choices years earlier, and sees a reflection of her youth in the Princess Jen Yu, played with zeal by the breathtaking Zhang Ziyi. Jen Yu is has a secret. Although she’s scheduled to be married, she has a secret outlaw lover and masterful kung fu skills. Yu Shu Lien also has a secret: through a twist of fate and a sense of honor, she has wasted her life living as an adventurer with the man she loves, unable to profess that love or even be happy. Ang Lee takes great pains to develop his female characters so the rivalry between Zhang and Yeoh is never cartoonish, and when the two duel, it has real meaning and is not merely a fight scene.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also differs from most wuxia films not only in its depth of characters and plot, but also in its pacing. The whole film is constructed more like the great Westerns than the great martial arts movies. It is a closer cousin to The Searchers than it is to Five Deadly Venoms.
Not only does the DVD of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon contain a pristine transfer of the film; it is also loaded with extras. The film is naturally presented in 2.35:1 letterbox, and also features a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix of the Mandarin soundtrack. There are also English and French dubs, but why would anyone bother? There is a commentary by Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus, a Michelle Yeoh interview, and more.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of those films that gets better with repeated viewing. Once you get past the style, you can start to delve into the substance of the film. The DVD is an excellent way to do just that.