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Includes Superbit DVDs of The Fifth Element, Desperado and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Hong Kong wuxia films, or martial arts fantasies, traditionally squeeze poor acting, slapstick humor, and silly story lines between elaborate fight scenes in which characters can literally fly. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has no shortage of breathtaking battles, but it also has the dramatic soul of a Greek tragedy and the sweep of an epic romance. This is the work of director Ang Lee, who fell in love with movies while watching wuxia films as a youngster and made Crouching Tiger as a tribute to the form. To elevate the genre above its B-movie roots and broaden its appeal, Lee did two important things. First, he assembled an all-star lineup of talent, joining the famous Asian actors Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh with the striking, charismatic newcomer Zhang Ziyi. Behind the scenes, Lee called upon cinematographer Peter Pau (The Killer, The Bride with White Hair) and legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo-ping, best known outside Asia for his work on The Matrix. Second, in adapting the story from a Chinese pulp-fiction novel written by Wang Du Lu, Lee focused not on the pursuit of a legendary sword known as "The Green Destiny," but instead on the struggles of his female leads against social obligation. In his hands, the requisite fight scenes become another means of expressing the individual spirits of his characters and their conflicts with society and each other. The filming required an immense effort from all involved. Chow and Yeoh had to learn to speak Mandarin, which Lee insisted on using instead of Cantonese to achieve a more classic, lyrical feel. The astonishing battles between Jen (Zhang) and Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh) on the rooftops and Jen and Li Mu Bai (Chow) atop the branches of bamboo trees required weeks of excruciating wire and harness work (which in turn required meticulous "digital wire removal"). But the result is a seamless blend of action, romance, and social commentary in a populist film that, like its young star Zhang, soars with balletic grace and dignity. --Eugene Wei
The Fifth Element
Ancient curses, all-powerful monsters, shape-changing assassins, scantily-clad stewardesses, laser battles, huge explosions, a perfect woman, a malcontent hero--what more can you ask of a big-budget science fiction movie? Luc Besson's high-octane film incorporates presidents, rock stars, and cab drivers into its peculiar plot, traversing worlds and encountering some pretty wild aliens. Bruce Willis stars as a down-and-out cabbie who must win the love of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) to save Earth from destruction by Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) and a dark, unearthly force that makes Darth Vader look like an Ewok. --Geoff Riley
It's Sergio Leone meets Sam Peckinpah meets Quentin Tarantino in this ultraviolent, mythological shoot-'em-up by auteur Robert Rodriguez. In Desperado, Rodriguez creates larger-than-life, genre-tweaking stock characters and puts them through their paces. As they stride bravely through an Old West lightly dusted with camp humor, they're periodically called upon to nimbly dodge bullets and fireballs through outrageously choreographed displays of Hollywood pyrotechnics. In this bigger-budget semi-remake/semi-sequel to Rodriguez's indie sensation, El Mariachi (made, famously, for $7,000), Antonio Banderas is the darkly charismatic El Mariachi, the Mysterious Stranger in town; Steve Buscemi is perfectly cast as his weasely, motor-mouth Comic Sidekick, laying the groundwork for El Mariachi's entrance by spinning saloon stories to build up his legend; Cheech Marin is a standout as the Bartender, who really knows how to handle a toothpick; and gorgeous Salma Hayek is, well, the Girl--treated to the kind of full-blown, slow-mo introduction the movies traditionally lavish on beautiful new stars. It doesn't add up to much, but it's a kick. --Jim Emerson
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