Considering 2000 was by no account a terrific year in film, to call Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon one of, if not the , best of Y2K is to almost damn it with faint praise–and Ang Lee’s Academy Award-winning martial arts epic deserves no less than the most effusive praise possible, even when downsized for home viewing. It goes without saying that the film’s gorgeous photography, spectacular fight sequences, haunting music, and larger-than-life emotional content is best experienced on the big screen, but Columbia TriStar’s DVD allows one as ideal a home viewing experience as technology can allow. The anamorphic transfer lovingly preserves the lush pallette of Peter Pau’s Oscar-winning cinematography; everything from the swooping swings of swords to each note of Tan Dun’s Oscar-winning score pack their same punch on the digitally mastered audio tracks.
While the DVD is great for simply watching the film, the supplements leave a lot to be desired, especiallly considering the high esteem in which it is held by critics and mass audiences alike. Lee and co-screenwriter/executive producer James Schamus provide an audio commentary that is alternately entertaining and aggravating. The latter quality is the fault of Schamus, who is not nearly as funny as he thinks he is. I suppose he deserves some credit for trying to be lively, but too often he throws in really bad jokes (case in point: he refers to one of the numerous weightless leaps as a “Weight Watchers” and “Sarah Ferguson” leap–ha ha ha) or playacts the role of ignorant interviewer; too rarely does he shed light on writing the unique and difficult task of writing a distinctly Asian film from a Western sensibility. He should have followed the classier lead of Lee, who enthusiastically discusses the film with a healthy balance of humor and insight.
Star Michelle Yeoh gets a solo showcase for her thoughts on the “Conversation with Michelle Yeoh” featurette, in whose 13 minutes she makes more substantive comments than Schamus does in his two hours (totally unsolicited word of advice to Ms. Yeoh: rethink those hoop earrings!). Yeoh’s leading man, Chow Yun-Fat only gets his say in the disc’s token “making-of” documentary, Unleashing the Dragon , but considering it had aired on Bravo during the film’s theatrical release, it’s less an informational piece than a glorified infomercial, offering too shallow a look at, among other things, gravity-defying action scenes.
That special spends a bit more time on the music, but as a whole the disc gives this crucial element to the film’s success (and acclaim) the short shrift. While I suppose an (admittedly not-too-badly done) English language audio track had to be included along with the original Mandarin language one, the French language one could have easily been sacrificed for an isolated score track. Even more curious is how the music videos for both the English and Mandarin versions of the film’s closing credits song, Asian pop superstar CoCo Lee’s “A Love Before Time,” were included in international versions of the DVD but not this Region 1 release. Perhaps the explanation is that Lee’s status in North America is of decidedly lower profile, but considering the song earned one of the film’s ten Academy Award nominations, its inclusion should have been automatic.
The DVD’s other extras, a six-minute montage of photos set to score excerpts, production notes, and animated menu screens are nice but are in line with the overall lightweight quality of the supplementary material. Maybe Columbia TriStar is holding back for a more extensive special edition for the future. Nonetheless, what counts most in the end is the presentation of the feature itself, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon looks and sounds great. But fans looking for more won’t find too much else to savor.
Specifications: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; Mandarin and English 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Surround; English and French subtitles; English closed captioning.