When high-definition home entertainment formats were first launched, chances are you’d walk into a demo room to behold Zhang Yimou’s
lustrous House Of Flying Daggers whooshing and clanking across a 70-inch retractable screen.
Now, nearly a decade after it first assailed the senses, the film that introduced mainstream western audiences to the balletic combat of wireassisted ‘wuxia’ (historical combat tales from the Far East) takes a perfectly poised bow on Blu-ray.
But, like the wizened old geezer in Kung Fu who kept closing his palm on the grasshopper, Ang Lee’s masterpiece represents the best and
worst of archive HD releases.
First, the best. Beauty is the word for Lee’s exquisite, heartfelt adoption of this ancient art form. The beauty of majestic scenery, of exquisite camerawork, of the faces of its stoic stars – and of Lee’s inspired infusion of genuine emotion in Matrixman Yuen Woo-ping’s fight choreography.
Overstatement? Not really – it really is that good. If you don’t remember, this is the perfect reminder, HD restoring its majesty. Take the renowned tree-top swordfight. Leaves shimmer and shake, metal glints in the light above the canopy and Chow Yun-fat and Ziyi Zhang deliver
a complex array of motivations and reactions.
And Blu-ray boosts it all. Joyous. Now, the bad. There are no HD -exclusive extras and the limited DVD special features are in standard def, clips from the film blockily pixellated with manifold colour bleed. Luckily,
Lee and producer/writer James Schamus’ commentary revels in the heritage merged with their own sensibilities and is always worth a listen,
even more so alongside the blissful transfer.
But if you have the DVD , you’ve heard it. It raises yet again the key question at the heart of the current DVD market downswing – why buy Blu-ray? For the quality or for the added extras? For those that rank the film above all else (probably Superbit DVD buyers), there is no question that this is an indispensable release.
For those after bolted-on bling, not so much. There is a BD -Live link, but these extras weren’t online at time of writing. A year to 18 months ago such a rollout would have excusable, but with recent back-catalogue titles now coming stacked with older, often upscaled extras and new HD tantalisers, a modern classic like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon deserves better. The HD film soars, but the Blu-ray disc plods.
The majesty and magic of Ang Lee’s emotional martial arts blossom beautifully in Blu-ray, but they stand alone.