TAN DUN: The Martial Arts Trilogy. Music from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Banquet, and Hero.
Yo-Yo Ma (cello); Lang Lang (piano); Itzhak Perlman (violin); Tan Dun (violin); Kodo (drums); David Cossin (percussion); Archie Peña (percussion); Dan Warner (guitar); Julio Hernández (bass guitar); Susan Botti (vocals); Jane Lian Ying Chang (vocals); Shanghai National Orchestra/Chen Xie Yang; Shanghai National Orchestra/Jorge Calandrelli; Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Opera Chorus, Shanghai Percussion Ensemble, Ancient Rao Ensemble of Changsha Museum, China Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Tan Dun.
Sony 88697923532 TT: 47:35.

Lights! Camera! Z-z-z-z-z. Think back to the recent past when movie investors decided to put real money into what had been known as chop-socky and wire fu. We got at least two beautiful ones with production values, decent acting, and pretty good scripts. I saw both Crouching Tiger and Hero and both blew me away with their stunning visuals and, at least in the first, fabulous actors (Yun-Fat Chow and Michelle Yeoh, especially). The music was strictly functional, remaining in the background. I was a bit surprised to learn that Tan Dun composed it, even more surprised, from an aesthetic standpoint, to learn that soundtrack albums had been released.

Make no mistake: good film music doesn't have to function well on its own, although it's a bonus if it does. Conversely, good concert music doesn't necessarily work in the context of a film. Tan Dun came up with good film music that doesn't stand up to a hearing without the movie backing it up. Some of it is downright kitsch. In spots, it reminded me of Ennio Morricone's scores for the spaghetti westerns, but without the enlivening fun. You can listen to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly all on its own, just because Morricone lets you in on the great time he has concocting the musical equivalents of Kewpie dolls and G. I. Joe "action figures." Tan Dun is far too solemn about it all, more like Celtic Woman rather than Queen.

Everything gets the super-luxe treatment, which places a heavy blanket on not very interesting stuff in the first place. I fell asleep twice.

By the way, total timing on the disc is anybody's guess. Somehow the coding claims 82 minutes, with a first track of about 3 minutes. If you skip to the second cut, the total drops to about 44. Despite the collaboration of Ma, Perlman, and Lang, I suggest you give this gewgaw a miss. It's just not good enough junk.

S.G.S. (October 2011)