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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-DragonIts hard to believe that its been sixteen years since director Ang Lee announced himself as a powerhouse director with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  The film burst onto the scene to great acclaim in the United States, even moreso than in its native land.  Critical acclaim and audience enjoyment followed with an incredible amount of awards love for a foreign film.  Lee’s film garnered ten Academy Award nominations that year, including Best Picture and Best Director.  While it didn’t take the big prizes, it wouldn’t go home empty handed, winning for Best Foreign Film, Art Direction, Cinematography and Original Score.  This also launched a bit of a craze for this sort of martial arts film in the United States with the likes of House of Flying Daggers and Hero following in its wake, as well as launching the career of Zhang Ziyi.

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Film 

Two master warriors are faced with their greatest challenge when the treasured Green Destiny sword isstolen. A young aristocrat prepares for an arranged marriage, but soon reveals her superior fighting talents and her deeply romantic past. As each warrior battles for justice, they come face to face with their worst enemy – and the inescapable, enduring power of love.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a gorgeous, timeless martial arts classic akin to its genre what Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven had done eight years prior.  Its the type of film that once was cranked out theatrically every week, but had since run its course and only would be made once in a while.  But, when they do have a modern entry, there’s a lot more to it, a sort of reflective quality that elevates and perfects it.  And then, when you get a vision and brilliance like Ang Lee behind it, you get something very special.

Rightfully winning its award for cinematography, this film is a marvel to look at.  Its so rich, that combined with the sets and costuming in the film, there are no signs of any age or dating to the film.  The look is pure, the scale is huge and the scenery is incredibly breathtaking.  An appropriate term to use would be to call it a “Martial Arts Epic” in its finest form.  Whether you’re out in the middle of a desert, in the heart of the city or in the wooded mountains, you want to just pause and wander around the screen the luxurious landscapes that Lee and company have managed to represent.

Most notably, the film is known for its unique take on the fight scenes.  People would refer to it as “wire fu” due to the floating and free nature of the characters in the moment.  They are able to bounce and fly with a grace and softness that really hadn’t been filmed like this before.  Its matched in some intensity and quick fighting style with the characters.  The kung fu on display is a marvel to watch due to the incredibly dedication and masterful execution of the choreography in the film.  While the fights are intense and breathtaking, there is also a beauty and almost ballet-like quality to them.  With the wreckage comes a sweet harmony that even a martial arts film detractor could completely enjoy and have a newfound respect for.

Ten award nominations is a lot, but I feel they missed one nod; Michelle Yeoh.  This was the perfect film to not only harness his martial arts skills that she was known for from Police Story 3: Supercop and Tomorrow Never Dies, but it displayed her very talented dramatic skills as well.  She’s the backbone of this movie and her relations with both Chow Yun Fat’s Li and Zhang Ziyi are displays of tremendous range.  A funny aspect of the film is the perception  of different cultures with the film.  In the Eastern hemisphere it didn’t go over as well because they were bothered by the various accents that weren’t of the nature from where the source material and setting was to be.  Meanwhile, over here in the United States, it wasn’t a bother because nobody noticed it.

Ang Lee’s masterpiece is an excellent film to refresh and revisit over the years.  Each viewing for me has made this one stronger and stronger.  Its a very unique case in that the film looks and plays so authentic, its just as fresh for a viewing today as it was back in 2000.  And I’m guessing because of their nailing of the periodic nature, it will still remain that way in another sixteen years.  The visuals are amazing, the fights are wonderful, the acting is terrific and the scale and drama top notch.  Back in the year 2000, I was a big champion for Gladiator, but over time I think maybe this is the one that maybe should have taken home the Best Picture trophy.

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Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s 4K UHD debut was transferred in from a brand new 4K master.  And, woo, I’m pretty floored.  Early on, there is a tiny similarity to the look of Labyrinth (Also a Sony title), in terms of the appearance of the grain, however its much much much lighter and doesn’t became near as noticeable after about 20 minutes.  Darker scenes and very bright scenes tend to be a bit more impressive in terms of cleanliness.  Only one sequence looked kind of ugly and that was a horseback chase, but I think that one is always going to look ugly do to the nature of the source and way its been shot.  Details in this transfer should wow you from moment one.  Even nighttime scenes are ripe with incredibly clear details  Bricks, wooden doors, dried desert land, rock, leaves and trails in nature are finely combed and you can see cracks, scuffs, grain, splintering, dried out cracks and rock/stick patterns.  Clothing lends itself to seeing fabrics, strings and patterns where there couldn’t have been as much detail before (Take note of Chow Yun Fat’s outfit, which I’d never noticed even had much of a pattern before).  The swords in the film feature a nice gloss and cleanliness that looks quite groovy.  This is a great look for an awesome catalog title.

Depth:  Coming to 4K has really added some more dimensions and pushed backgrounds a little further back from the foreground.  A lot of these open shots, especially in the wooded areas, feel deep and far from where the characters are sounding.  As expected, any time there is a fight, the characters feel free and very floaty within their environment.  Sweeping camera movements also impressively keep the 3D effect going and holding the characters firm while backdrops seems to swirl.  Characters move very cinematically and smooth. Background imagery is very clear and defined as focus is pretty clean.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and impressive player in a lot of sequences in the film.  Darker scenes tend to look a bit cleaner on the print and don’t show as much grain.  Shadows and nightfall are expertly done, keeping a nice clarity to everything while holding up the detail and not hiding everything.  Blacks also help to define and keep darkness withing things like trees in the woods during daylight scenes.  They also don’t hide any detail on dark objects as you are still able to make out clothing patterns and detail, hair follicles and surface wear and tear.  No crushing witnessed at all in this viewing.

Color Reproduction: Colors manage to be pretty bold, while keeping things down to Earth and not blasting you with an extremely vivid pop.  Reds and blues come through pretty nice when it comes to wardrobe, lipstick, banners and such.  Lo’s red outfit is one that generally pushes through a little stronger than anything else.  Greens are probably the strongest color on the varied palette.  Trees feature a gorgeous emerald appearance with many different shades and tones, especially when overlooking some nice big scale mountainous shots.  Rooftops and Li’s sword also feature some strong and varied greens.  While not a pretty color, the Earth tones in the desert impress, showing even a different, reddish tint to some of the sand.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones have a natural appearance to them and maintain appearance from scene to scene throughout the film.  Facial details are insanely impressive from any given distance the shot is.  There are moles revealed, stubble, make-up brush lines, wrinkles, stubble, neck lines and more.  One instance I really thought was amazing is in the early moments on Zhang Ziyi’s lips you can see just these little parts that don’t have any lipstick on them.  There is just a little pink between some of the deep red lip stick and her skin.

Noise/Artifacts: This one features a fine layer of grain that early in the film looks similar to the 4K UHD picture of Labyrinth, but nowhere near as heavy.  It has that effect that some may think its some very faint noise, but its actually just grain.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): Mandarin Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD Compatible), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Czech 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Hungarian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital,

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Thai, Turkish

Dynamics:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sounds fresh and brand new in this spectacular Dolby Atmos mix crafted for this release.  Impressive sound detail, like the swishing and clinging of swords, meshed with environmental accuracy should make this feel brand new for longtime viewers.  The fight scenes are quite impactful and sometime really feel like you might want to move out of the way in a neat interactive fashion as characters and weapons fly by and sound lifelike.  Quiet scenes are also quite impressive with great, crisp vocals that are able to hang out cleanly with the score and other foley sounds.

Height:  The ceiling speaker does get utilized in this mix.  And its where you’d want it to be with some swooping action as characters can fly over in moments.  This channel is also utilized when bringing on some ambient sounds for accompaniment in presenting an environment for a scene to take place in.

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer gets put to some varied work in this mix.  In terms of action, it fulfills the expected punches, kicks and landing on hard surfaces.  It also will present some good “wooshes” to the swinging of swords and other various weapons.  Waterfalls also can hit a little harder with the LFE. Horse stampedes during a desert assault trample through your viewing area.  Drumming in the film’s Academy Award winning score provide a nice bump in the mix.

Surround Sound Presentation: This new Atmos track has all sorts of fun with every channel, putting you right in the midst of action or feeling like you’re in the middle of a cavern.  During one fight scene a character was knocked to the ground dropping their sword which you could hear land on the left side (surround) speaker. In another fighter a character was caught in the middle of three aggressors and you got each individualized from the two side speakers and the back right rear channel.  The score is also intricately woven through the speakers with different instruments consistently dedicated to one of the front three channels as well as some other instruments filling out the remaining speakers.  Every flying martial arts battle flies around your viewing space quite impressive and should wow you to a new degree with a film you’re already familiar with.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is plenty clear, clean and carries every piece of diction from the characters’ mouths.  Placement and movement are accurate.

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Extras 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon comes with the Blu-ray edition and an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.  The menu also features a Cast & Crew section that is basically just a picture of a character from the film listing their name and actor that played them (Or in Ang Lee’s case a picture of him with “director”)

Audio Commentary

  • Director and Writer Commentary
  • Cinematographer Commentary

Anniversary Edition Introduction By Director Ang Lee (4K HDR, :52) – Lee refers to it as the most difficult film he ever made and is happy people still enjoy it and also brushes over his excitement of revisiting the deleted scenes.

Deleted Scenes (4K HDR, 7:50) – Six scenes with picture quality matching up to that of the film.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon A Retrospective (4K HDR, 1:21:30) – Film journalist Tasha R. Robinson sits down in one-on-one interviews director Ang Lee, editor Tim Squyres, and producer/screenwriter James Schamus to reflect on the production and legacy of the film.  It goes person by person, so you get a full interview with one person before moving to the next.  None of it feels repetitive and Robinson is able to piggyback on points made by an earlier interviewee to get a bigger picture painted to a question or statement made in one of the other interviews.

The Making Of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (SD, 19:02) – An archival featurette from a previous release.  Presented in 4×3 Letterbox.  The narrator makes it feel very press package-ish with interviews featuring the film’s cast, Ang Lee and other crew members.

“A Love Before Time” Music Video: English Version (SD, 3:48)

“A Love Before Time” Music Video: Mandarin Version (SD, 3:47)

A Conversation With Michelle Yeoh (SD, 13:49) – An archival interview with her in which she discusses a lot of how it is to work with Ang Lee and that this movie was able to harness her martial arts skills with romance.  She praises Chow Yun Fat for giving her a lot to work with as they both struggled with the language and dialogue in the film because they didn’t speak Chinese.

Photo Gallery (SD, 6:50)

Moments

  • Fights (4K HDR, 19:26) 
  • Shu Lien (4K HDR, 6:53) 
  • Li Mu Bai (4K HDR, 12:05) 
  • Jen (4K HDR, 14:26) 

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Summary 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of Ang Lee’s finest efforts and a cinematic masterpiece.  Its made even more impressive and brand new by its debut of 4K UHD Blu-ray.  This picture is outstanding and hopefully is a peak of things to come with well done catalog titles.  I was also particular floored by the Dolby Atmos presentation as it was reason to warrant a purchase of this release on its own.  Also, in a so far unique move, this disc contains honest to god bonus material on it!  This is one any serious film fan should have in their library, and one that home theater enthusiasts should check out.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

2 Responses to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Great review. Great film. Can’t wait to pick up this new edition.

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    For the record: I was team Traffic in 2000.