Rapidly following Hero (because that film sat on Miramax’s shelf for two years before being given a Western release in cut form) is Yimou Zhang’s second entry into Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon territory. Where Hero shared its composer, Tan Dun, with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Shi mian mai fu (House of Flying Daggers), is scored by the rather less prestigious Shigeru Umebayashi. Perhaps it is no longer felt necessary to hire a famous ‘classical’ composer to lend credibility in the ears of Western audiences to such projects, or perhaps Zhang simply realised Tan Dun had essentially reworked Crouching Tiger for him, and wanted something new for his budget. Whatever, Umebayashi (best known the UK for In The Mood For Love) delivers a score very much in the vein we have come to expect; lots of Chinese colours and atmospheres, wooden flutes, bold percussion, delicate and lyrical atmospherics. The melodies are beautiful, the mood often deeply romantic, the overall feeling one of inevitable tragedy. What is startling, and a little disappointing, is to find the use of electronics in several cues, particularly in the early part of the disc. This though does not especially spoil things, for the romantic heart of the album remains purely orchestral-instrumental in a way more in keeping with the historical drama on screen.
Among the standout cues is ‘Lovers (Mei and Jin)’, a gorgeous set-piece version of the central love theme. A piece which is also reworked into the closing song of the same title. Here Kathleen Battle’s soprano adds immeasurably to the haunting quality of the tale, lifting the film far above the usual tawdry pop song end titles. In recent years only Patrick Doyle, in his collaborations with Kenneth Branagh, has written movie songs this effective. Fans of Asian film music will already have this in their collections, but others who appreciate well crafted, subtle and delicate tenderly romantic scores should find much to please them here.