This is one of those films that really belong up on the big screen. Its sweep and detail and magic tend to be diminished on the small screen – even in widescreen DVD format. Much of the action is swift moving – very swift moving – and filmed in darkness or shadows. Yet because of its convoluted plot, the film needs more than one viewing to really appreciate all its convolutions and subtleties – and, more importantly as far as we are concerned, it gives us the opportunity of evaluating Tan Dun’s music. This is the real value of this DVD release. So my advice is see it on the big screen first and enjoy it again on DVD. Picture quality and sound is good but not exceptional. Tan Dun’s atmospheric and exotic music, subtly orchestrated, weaves a brilliant sound tapestry heightening the drama and the emotions of its protagonists, with Yo Yo Ma’s cello commenting sympathetically, often sorrowfully.
There is the usual "the making of… " feature in which Ang Lee explains that it had always been his dream to make a martial arts movie but that he had been more concerned to tell a richer story, with more grace and depth touching on more complex issues, issues of death and female emancipation as well as romance and the usual ethics of honour associated with the genre. Lee, and the movie’s stars, speak of the rigorous and dangerous fight scenes, so intricately choreographed to look like extended dance routines, particularly with those extraordinary flight sequences necessitating very sophisticated wiring technologies and split-second timing.
The feature also includes a very brief interview with composer Tan Dun and cellist Yo Yo Ma. Tantalisingly, we learn very little beyond that he had very little time (surprise, surprise!) to compose his Oscar-winning music. The producers say that he responded to the drama and narrative of the film and its patterns and motifs in a very lyrical way. Yo Yo Ma says that he felt his haunting cello music forms a link, a sort of bridge between its worlds.