It is tempting to make fun of Yo-Yo Ma's name. It is even more tempting to forget about puns concerning playing with strings, and simply rejoice in his genius. There is no instrument to match the bittersweet lament of a cello under the caress of a virtuoso; and while neither Yo-Yo's technical mastery nor the depths of his expressiveness are really tested by the requirements of this soundtrack, it is always compelling to hear the metaphorical weep of joy and laughter that emanates from the touch of his bow.
Composer, Tan Dun, has created a fascinating score for a samurai epic. It bends more towards the romantic than the dramatic, and successfully evokes the poetic grandeur of myth and heroism in an ancient landscape. A confluence of Oriental and Occidental influences produces a swirling current of emotions that are augmented by the gently haunting flow of Yo-Yo's cello.
According to the press release accompanying my CD, director Ang Lee conceived the film's action sequences in the manner of a musical; and as Louise Keller comments in her review, has captured on film the most "ballet-like martial arts imaginable".
Not having seen the film as yet myself, these observations make perfect sense when listening to the soundtrack alone. Unlike the scores of many Hollywood action blockbusters, there is far more style and subtlety here than the endless repetition of an adrenalin-pumping motif. Even when the mood and tempo rises with a flourish of oriental percussion or a pulsing string figure, a shift of dynamics or a new tonal colour is always around the corner.
As bookends to the score are Mandarin and English versions of the end-title song - a superior pop ballad co-written by Dun with Jorge Calandrelli. In the spirit of the score, it combines some very American melodic hooks with a perfectly complimentary oriental riff. Featuring vocals by the scrumptious Coco Lee, a former Miss Chinese-America pageant winner who has a beauty of voice to match her physical pulchritude, it is a highlight of an already superlative soundtrack.
You don't need to be a fan of samurai fables, dragons or striped big cats to revel in the lucidity and lyricism of this album. Beware the Crouching Tiger? I think not. Pounce on it."