with any film which has been well and truly wrung through the Hollywood
hype-machine, it was with great trepidation that I sat down to finally
view Ang Lee's much lauded production.
The Green Destiny, a sword of tremendous power, is being transported
to Beijing at the request of its owner Li Mu-Bai (Chow).
In charge of its safe keeping is Yu Shu-Lien (Yeoh), the head of 'Sun Security', and also the unspoken
owner of Mu-Bai's heart.
Arriving in Beijing, Shu-Lien meets a young girl soon to be married,
and a close friendship grows between the two.
No sooner has the sword been delivered to its keeper, than it is
stolen....and that is where my synopsis must end.
Over the course of this two-hour movie many different plot threads
are interwoven, and to reveal any of them would seriously damage
your enjoyment of the film.
In most reviews I've read, the writers split their views into two
categories - the drama and the action. And so, not wanting to appear
in any way creative, I will follow that template.
Although the film's opening segment is interesting and holds the
attention, it is only when the story moves away from the sword and
into the Desert Flashback sequence that the film's true qualities
Following Jen (Zhang Zi-Yi), the real
lead of the film, the viewer is taken on a journey of this girl's
true character. Short tempered, somewhat arrogant, misguided, and
searching for her own identity Zhang Zi-Yi is utterly captivating
As you would expect, Chow Yun-Fat fully imposes himself on the film,
using his now renowned facial expressiveness to convey a whole gamut
of emotions in a single glance.
The surprise-package from my point of view was Michelle Yeoh. I've
always admired her physical grace and ability, but I had no idea
of her ability as an actress until her superb and moving performance
at the film's finale.
Now on to the action...
To put it bluntly, it's poor. Well, that's probably unfair - the
choreography is excellent, but the wire-work and its execution are amateurish.
Having watched numerous swordplay films, I was expecting that a Hong
Kong action maestro such as Yuen Woo-Ping would produce something
Unfortunately, the only memorable aspect of the action scenes is
how irritating they quickly become, bringing the film's dramatic
content to a standstill.
I've never watched a Chinese film and felt embarrassed by its action
sequences. CTHD managed to make me consistently want to cover my
One element that I particularly disliked, along with the weightlessness
of the character's movements, was the sound effects or lack of them.
Each fight involving hand to hand (or foot to foot) contact sounded
very weak and unexciting, due to the lack of any of the usual "whooshing,
"whacking" or "cracking" sounds used in Eastern Cinema.
As such, the action appears to be more of a Wu-Shu demonstration
than a deadly battle between highly skilled opponents.
With Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, Ang Lee directed my favourite film
of all time - a story of human emotions, and how we each find our
way of dealing with them. In CTHD, Ang seems to have the same aim,
but gets a far more mixed result.
As mentioned, the action scenes soon feel protracted and dull, reducing
the film's considerable dramatic tension.
Thankfully, the film's finale does away with much of the wire-work and extended action, and as such makes
for a sombre and affecting conclusion.
film made in 2000, and a transfer being handled by a company such
as Columbia Tri-Star, the appearance of sparkles and grain is very
disappointing indeed. The marks are evident throughout, and because
of the transfer's otherwise excellent standard, these defects are
all the more frustrating.
A very sharp, detailed image is present throughout, giving a great
lustre to the many pieces of weaponry, and elegant costumes.
Also, with many scenes taking place at night, the black levels and
shadow detail had to be good, and in this area, Columbia also triumph.
A small amount of artifacting is present, but overall the transfer
exhibits a cinematic quality worthy of the film's production values.
is consistently clear, and although the soundtrack contains fairly
restrained directional effects, its overall quality is superb.
Special mention must also go to Yo-Yo Ma's cello themes, which permeate
many of the film's key emotional scenes, and are reproduced with
great clarity and warmth.
whilst the subtitles are grammatically flawless and easy to read,
they appear to be somewhat Westernised.
With the help of Neil Jenkins from Bullets'N'Babes, I compared a selection
of subtitles from the R2 disc, with those from the original R3 release.
Although the differences were subtle, they were enough to change
the "feel" of a number of scenes - particularly the final sequence
involving Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh.
It's a shame that the subtitles used for the Region 3 disc were
obviously deemed too colloquial for British based viewers, as this
slight dumbing-down robs the film of some of its Eastern flavour.
US Theatrical Trailer
The extremely "Hollywood" trailer, with 'voice-over man' working
overtime to make the film sound as cheesy as possible.
The much shorter, and far superior, International trailer.
Additional Trailers are provided for Vertical Limit and Not
The Making Of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (20 mins)
An HBO making of... feature, including interviews with Ang Lee,
Michelle Yeoh, James Schamus, and Chow Yun-Fat.
There are a number of segments that focus on the motivations of
the characters, whilst intercutting scenes from the film and footage
taken on set. This makes for a nice 'post-film' watch.
A Conversation With Michelle Yeoh
Michelle once again talks of her character's motivations, and of
her feelings towards her role as Yu Shu-Lien.
She also discusses her reasons for wanting to work with Ang Lee,
and the many different personality traits which make up Shu-Lien's
Commentary By Ang Lee & James Schamus
Whilst I had little problem with Ang Lee's observations concerning
the film, James Schamus's recurring jokes quickly began to grate
on my nerves.
Considering Schamus worked on the film's script himself, his negative
comments regarding some of the film's dialogue was not only surprising
but also irritating.
I felt quite uneasy at their derogatory observations concerning
not only CTHD, but also the films which Ang professes to love -
Hong Kong Martial Arts movies.
As such, I can't really say I enjoyed the commentary that much.
Ang Lee Chow Yun-Fat Michelle Yeoh James
Schamus Yuen Woo Ping
I was instantly disappointed at the lack of a Talent File for either
Chang Chen or Zhang Zi-Yi, and then even more so once I had viewed
the ones provided.
There is very little information supplied per "file", with limited
filmographies for each actor.
Also, Yuen Woo-Ping's filmography is not only short, but in a number
of cases totally incorrect - 'Drunken Master part 2 (1979)'!?!
Whether my feelings for the film are because
of my knowledge of Hong Kong Cinema, or Ang Lee's previous superb
efforts, I'm unsure. However, many people I've spoken to share my
feelings about the positive and negative aspects of the film.
As a tragic tale of unspoken love and unfulfilled feelings, filled
with wonderful actors and buoyed by some exceptional cinematography,
it's a triumph.
As a martial arts epic, it isn't even worth consideration.
Using that information, it is up to the individual whether they
feel that the disc makes a worthy purchase - or not.