In this set, "House of Flying Daggers" and "Curse of the Golden Flower" have been previously released. New to Blu-Ray is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
A film that combines two fantastic lead actors, wonderful martial arts scenes and an entertaining story, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is one of the most impressive films I've seen in quite some time. Only rarely does the film slow up in the middle, but this is a very minor complaint. Director Ang Lee has certainly taken on a number of very different films - some excellent ("Sense and Sensibility") and some not quite as good ("Ride With The Devil"), but "Crouching" is, in my opinion, his most enjoyable and entertaining work.
The film begins with Li Mu Bai(Chow Yun-Fat), a legendary warrior, planning to retire from battle, giving up his legendary Green Destiny sword. Before long though, the sword gets stolen in an impressively staged night chase through the streets (and across the rooftops) of the city. With friend (who he has unspoken love for) Shu Lien(Michelle Yeoh), he sets off to find the sword's thief - whether it be the legendary criminal Jade Fox, or Jen, a politican's daughter who has sword skills, but - in "Star Wars" terms - she's crossed over to the dark side.
The film's central tale is essentially nothing particularly new, but as done by Lee and acted by a wonderful group of leads, it manages to be fresh and new, if not always exciting. The fight scenes are certainly thrilling, it's just that there's a couple of stretches towards the middle of Lee's film where it slows up a little; some slight editing may have tighted the pace a bit. Even when the film's pace slows up a little, the film's cinematography remains breathtaking, with numerous shots of scenery that is simply beautiful.
And then, there are the fight sequences. The film is not action sequences throughout the picture, but the several sequences included are stunning. Choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping, who also did similar work with "The Matrix", these scenes allow the actors to walk up walls and fly from rooftop to rooftop. Those looking for more intense fight sequences should check out "Twin Warriors" (currently on DVD) a film starring Yeoh and Jet Li, directed by Yuen Wo-Ping, which features fantastic fight sequences at a rate of what seems to be every few minutes.
But, in terms of "Crouching Tiger", I hope I haven't given too much away because there's a lot in the film that will suprise and entertain if left unknown before watching. Simply, there's something for everyone here; I think both the almost dance-like fight scenes and fine performances will have universal appeal, although some of the violence may scare younger viewers.
The extraordinary follow-up to "Hero", "House of Flying Daggers" is the latest from director Zhang Yimou. While "Hero" was an almost impossibly gorgeous and stylish effort from the director, "Daggers" somehow manages to top it visually. The story concerns a band of rebels called the House of Flying Daggers, who continually make life difficult for the corrupt current emperor.
The majority of the tale concerns the work of two deputies, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau), who are hired by the state to investigate the Daggers group. In order to gain access, they befriend a blind girl, Mei (Ziyi Zhang), who may be a member. The three meet in a brothel, where Mei performs a game that requires her to beat weighted sleeves against a circle of drums in a room. At first, it starts off slowly, but soon, the sleeves slowly dance across the room, striking a drum and then another, and another, and another. Soon, the scene has built into a whirling, elegant dance of incredible beauty. In another movie, this would be the big scene. In this movie, it's simply the first of many such graceful, epic moments.
The film does not offer a great deal of plot (although there's a twist or two), which occasionally makes the film seem a little longer than its 119 minutes. Not long after the opening, Jin and Mei run off together, often finding themselves up against a series of attackers, who approach them in breathtaking scenes in a field and in a series of bamboo trees. The performances are exceptionally powerful, especially Ziyi Zhang, who once again hides a remarkable warrior under an almost impossibly delicate, graceful exterior.
Again, the film is a visual masterpiece, thanks to astonishing cinematography and, like "Hero", amazing use of color. The use of CGI in the film is excellent, and looks - at least to me - more seamless, bold and imaginative than CGI use in a lot of American films I've sat through lately. There's an astonishing battle sequence where the seasons change from Fall to Winter during the course of the scene. The battle scenes - and there are several of them - also offer masterful choreography.
The story doesn't always feel full enough to hold the running time, but the film is an impressive mixture of action and romance, with superb performances from the cast. It's a good companion piece to "Hero" - similar, but also quite different.
Finally, also included is "Curse of the Golden Flower", the wonderful 2006 film from director Zhang Yimou, which starred Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li. The film focuses on the Emperor (Yun-Fat), whose wife (Gong Li) is carrying on an affair with her step-son, who also has his eye on another woman. The picture does a fine job blending action and high drama, with excellent performances from Li and Yun-Fat. As with Yimou's other films, the picture is a feast for the eyes, with top-notch costume design, production design and cinematography.
VIDEO: "Crouching Tiger" and "Curse" are presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC), while "House of Flying Daggers" is offered in 2.35:1 (1080p/MPEG2). "House" unfortunately appears to be the same release as the original edition, which suffers from some considerable issues. The first (and one of the most considerable) issues is the fact that the picture appears considerably soft - the picture looks almost a tad blurry at times, and one wishes that the fine details of such elements as clothing and background scenery could be seen with at least moderately more clarity.
Unfortunately, that's not all: grain is not handled particularly well, looking rather rough at times. Additionally, minor traces of pixelation and occasional light-to-mild edge enhancement are also spotted. Thankfully, at least no specks, marks or other debris are seen on the print used. Colors look fine, appearing bright and reasonably well-saturated during most scenes. Hopefully, there will be a remastered edition sometime in the future, as this edition remains disappointing.
"Curse of the Golden Flower" and especially the newly released "Crouching Tiger" are thankfully more pleasing in appearance. "Crouching Tiger" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and looked crisp and detailed, with smaller objects (clothing, hair, etc) showing very good fine detail. Although it varied slightly, there was also above-average depth to the image during most scenes. While some minor, "film-like" grain was seen throughout the movie, it was handled well by the transfer. The print appeared pristine, with only a few scattered, minor specks and marks seen. Colors looked natural, pure and often quite beautiful. Overall, fans should be pleased by the presentation of this long-awaited title.
"Curse of the Golden Flower", with its deep, bold color palette, also looked marvelous. The film's clothes, sets and other elements show vibrant, breathtaking colors that often pop off the screen, appearing well-saturated and without flaw. While some minor grain is occasionally seen, the picture otherwise looked mostly clean and clear, with only a few minor traces of edge enhancement. Sharpness and detail were impressive, and the picture also showed solid depth during most scenes. This was a very fine presentation of an absolutely gorgeous film.
SOUND: The Blu-Ray edition of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" presents the film in Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 5.1. English/French & Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are also included. Although I agree that any dubbed edition is certainly not optimal (and occasionally, the English dubbed editions are downright poor), the English dubbed edition of "Crouching Tiger" certainly remains a more than decent attempt, as dubbed soundtracks go.
The film's soundtrack was a terrific experience on the original edition of the DVD and it remains a rich and entertaining soundtrack again here. Although the film itself does not provide consistent action, during the film's subtler moments, enjoyable ambient sounds and the film's terrific score really are nicely presented by the surrounds. The film's score is really one of its best elements; dynamic and intense during the action sequences, while haunting and elegant during the quieter moments. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is an excellent presentation, offering exceptional clarity, occasional instances of deep bass and an open, enveloping feel.
"House" is presented in PCM 5.1. The sound design is terrific, putting the rear speakers to effective use to deliver effects and ambience during several major sequences. Effects are punchy and sound well-recorded, while dialogue seemed clear and the score came across sounding dynamic. "Curse of the Golden Flower" has a somewhat less aggressive sound mix than the other two films, although the surrounds are still used on occasion for effects and enjoyably detailed ambience. Audio quality on the PCM 5.1 presentation is above-average, with effects that come across with pin-drop clarity, natural dialogue and a warm, clean-sounding score.
EXTRAS: "House of Flying Daggers" contains a short FX featurette and storyboard comparison. "House" does, unfortunately, drop a commentary that was included on the prior DVD. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" carries over the features from the DVD: an excellent commentary from director Ang Lee and produced James Schamus, as well as the "Conversation With Michaelle Yeoh" and "Unleashing the Dragon" documentaries. Finally, "Curse of the Golden Flower" offers a promotional "making of" featurette and a short documentary on the film's LA Premiere.
Final Thoughts: While the image quality on "House of Flying Daggers" comes in under expectations, this set otherwise offers solid presentation quality for the films included, as well as a few extras. While it's unfortunate that those who already own "House" and "Golden Flower" have to re-purchase those titles if they want "Crouching Tiger", this is otherwise a very reasonably priced (available at $39.99 at some stores) set for those who are purchasing these excellent films for the first time on Blu-Ray.