Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon – Tan Dun (2000)

A year after Chinese wire-fighting first made it to American big screens in a big way (in The Matrix), the Western cinema viewing world was wowed with something it hadn’t really encountered before. Familiar martial arts movies had been the kind that starred Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, high on the action and testosterone, with or without laughs. But then in 2000 we were treated to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a gorgeous, dream-like movie that added in a huge dollop of myth and fantasy. The scene that perhaps best sums it all up is the fight in the bamboo – with clever wire work allowing the actors (or stunt doubles) to dance impossibly across the thin, bendy stems. And, oh, that colour palette!

There have been several other movies that hit the box office in similar form, such as Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), but the score to CTHD remains my favourite. This review had to wait until I rewatched the movie, as I could remember very little of the story – I just knew I loved those heart wrenching strings. And then, oh, of course – CTHD is a love story! It’s so obvious, all the melancholic yearning in the score. But then we have so many staccato drums and sharp, stabbing dangerous sounds representing the fight scenes. But on screen, those fights scenes are as much a dance, and the music enhances them beautifully.

Yo Yo Ma’s cello haunts through everything, but the use of more traditional Chinese instruments ties the score perfectly to the early 19th Century setting. I’m not sure what instrument does the stabbing, rising-tone alarm, but it gives one piece a huge sense of urgency. And then it’s back to the cello, always, and that sad, yearning tone that matches so much of the onscreen tale. I’d truly forgotten how sad the movie was!

If I have any complaints it’s that this is a very truncated form of the score, and doesn’t follow the same order as the movie. That perhaps explains why I don’t mentally ‘walk through’ any of the movie when listening. Still, it’s utterly recommended – not your usual Hollywood score, this brings something different and magical, moods from wistful to triumphant.

My rating: 9/10

Genre: martial arts / fantasy / romance
Released: 2000
Length: 0:49:43
Number of tracks: 15

Track listing:

  1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  2. The Eternal Vow
  3. A Wedding Interrupted
  4. Night Fight
  5. Silk Road
  6. To the South
  7. Through the Bamboo Forest
  8. The Encounter
  9. Desert Capriccio
  10. In the Old Temple
  11. Yearning of the Sword
  12. Sorrow
  13. Farewell
  14. A Love Before Time (English)
  15. A Love Before Time (Mandarin)

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