AUDIO REVIEW: CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON / COMPOSER: TAN DUN / LABEL: AT THE MOVIES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
While never particularly a fan of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon myself, it does hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many Westerners who've never seen a proper martial arts film. As far as cinema goes, one can do a lot better (without even delving that deep, 1991's Once Upon a Time in China features far superior wire work) … but that's neither here nor there. The music for Lee's 2000 film, even when separated from the film, is a masterwork of classical Chinese music, mixed with traditional western action film score.
Obviously, the star here is the cello portions performed by Yo-Yo Ma. The main theme and The Eternal Vow early on keep to his gorgeous, melancholy work, and hew closely to the tonal aspects of traditional Chinese music. The bigger pieces, featuring the Shangahi Symphony Orchestra, are stirring, but lack the subtlety of the quieter small group passages, except when working in a more classically Chinese fashion.
When the orchestra plays standard action fare or romantic tonal pieces, such as the introductions to both A Wedding Interrupted or Silk Road, you're reminded of nothing so much as the themes of myriad weepies from the '40s and '50s.
However, the further the orchestra delves into the use of traditional instruments like the bawu flute or the two-stringed fiddle, the erhu, and especially the riotous use of the tanggu on Night Fight (and, really – anything on which the Shanghai Percussion Ensemble performs), then the more music is interesting and intriguing. In the Old Temple is grand and inspiring, and the cello instantly grabs your ears and worms its way into your heart.
Such is not the case with the original song for the film, A Love Before Time, which bookends the album. It's a passably tolerable piece of fluff in Mandarin, but the English version that closes the album isn't even kitschy entertainment – it's atrocious and grating.
The cover artwork features the same issue that plagues many of the Music On Vinyl soundtrack reissues, which is that the image is slightly blurry, as if it were blown up from a less than desirable digital image. It's again made all the more obvious by the crystalline clarity of the text. The interior booklet has the same issue, although some images are less blurry than others. It seems a minor quibble, but given the care which was given everything else – the pressing on gorgeous blue and yellow marbled vinyl, along with the gatefold sleeve – it seems a shame to not have better art.
Art aside, it's what's pressed into the wax that matters, and this album sounds amazing. Whomever mastered this release deserves a giant pat on the back, as this is a fantastic vinyl transfer. It's warm, dynamic, and I've found myself repeatedly flipping the record over, and just letting it play again and again.