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Film Music Essay

While movies are made of dialogues, actors, vivid and dramatic settings, the presence of a musical score has the power to intensify the overall nature of any film. Music adds solemnity to a funeral scene, movement to a car chase, beauty and richness to scene zooming out on the scenery, and even romance to a proposal set-up. Sometimes, the score may consist of music that has lyrics, words meant to be sung. The words echo the sentiment of the movie, or the character involved. Sometimes the musical score may consist of only instruments, producing different sounds that convey the film’s mood, variety and continuity.

For instance, a saxophone sound is typically associated when an intimate scene is coming up. A music score has the ability to heighten the viewer’s feeling as he watch the scene unfolds. It serves as an accompaniment to the movie. As such, musical scores are vital component in the success of any film. One film that was able to maximize its musical score is the 2000 Academy Award ®winner Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Aside from winning the year’s awards for Best Original Score, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon also snagged three Oscars- Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction (Lee 2000).

This is a Chinese film tackling the classic theme of martial arts interspersed with the familiar argument on loyalty, tradition, sacrifice and honor. The story involves a treasured sword known as the Green Destiny, which was stolen by a young aristocrat who was embroiled in an arranged marriage. The stolen sword set the film in motion, untangling a web of unspoken emotions for all the characters. But what made the film unique is that it jabbed on the raw emotions of fear, death and love.

With such a compelling plot, commendable cast, which included martial art hero Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, simple yet mesmerizing locations, and jaw-dropping battles, it is the film’s musical score that dovetails the film into a classic. The score for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was composed by Tan Dun and performed by the Shanghai National Orchestra and Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, with featured solo performance by cellist Yo Yo Ma (Soundtrack LLC 2008). The album has 15 tracks, including English songs called A Love before Time sang by Coco Lee (2008).

Given that that movie is set in the Eastern world, it is not surprising the score boasts Eastern music while stirring a melancholy mood. For a samurai epic, the score is romantic, blending Oriental influence with the haunting sound of Ma’s cello. There is no specific theme for a character or elaborate rhythms for every fight scene. What one can hear is some kind of pattern for certain scenes. The film’s score brings more rawness to the images and emotions conveyed on the screen, allowing the viewer to look into the hearts and minds of each character.

The stringed-laden “The Eternal Vow” serves as the film’s identity. The track features a tense cello tone, thereby emitting a gloomy melody which served the film’s mood well. As mention, the track is filled with string instruments, with some brass thrown here and there. The traditional Chinese instrument that is erhu, a two-stringed, is probably the one that holds the grand display of traditional Chinese music here. Together with the cello, the two instruments entwine the film’s theme all throughout. The music is often repetitious and is only made higher when the scene calls for.

Ma’s cello solos are poetic enough to make the listener hear and understand the depths of the characters’ emotions. One scene where the score perfectly fits the scene is when Jen steals the Green Destiny sword and is being chased by Yu Shu Lien. While the masked Jen carries the Green Destiny and is pursued by Shu Lien across rooftops, a compelling score serves as accompaniment music. The track entitled “Night Fight”, features drum beats set gracefully against the two female leads as they climbed against walls and jumps over buildings.

One can feel the momentum, thrill by listening to the score. It is more than enough to keep the viewer into the chase as well with all the swooping, gliding and kicking. The scene is made perfect because of the flawless blending of the fight scene and the drum-beating music. Together, these elements are able to jibe, present the perfect mood and tone for the scene, without one surpassing the other. In another scene, when Jade Fox first appeared and is confronted by a police inspector and eventually by Li Mu Bai, there is a faint music that can he heard.

Unlike in the aforementioned scene where the track is extensively utilized to complement the action, this time the music serves merely as a background, giving the emphasis on the action as it happens- the grunts, screams and hissing of the swords. The music could have been dialled up a little, instead it is barely audible. It is, as this writer perceives, is a good move for the viewer is able to concentrate on what is happening rather have 50% attention on the music and 50% on the scene.

Likewise, the scene with the wedding procession is the only scene where musicians are seen on screen- a band playing drums and trumpets and other instruments. While the scene unfolds, the strong rhythm of the drum beats permeates, in anticipation of what is to follow- Jen escaping her own wedding. Another scene where music is significantly used is the flashback where Jen meets Lo for the first time. The track, called “The Eternal Vow” perfectly harmonizes the relationship between Jen and Lo without the need for explanation. The cello is strained yet haunting at the same time.

One hears the depths and pain with every note. However, the repetition may sometimes become a burden to the listener, becoming redundant in the long run. Perhaps the best track in the movie is “Through the Bamboo Forest” where Jen and Li Mu Bai fight amidst a forest canopy. While showcasing the natural beauty of the setting and the choreography of the fight scene, the track further enhances the overall imagery of the scene. While the two try to balance each other on the bamboos, the accompaniment music shows otherwise- the jaggedness of their true feelings at the moment.

If there is a track that seems digressing from the theme of the film, it is the English track which Lee sang. The track may be an ode to the Western pop music but is unable to achieve the effect My Heart Will Go On did for Titanic. While Lee has a pleasing voice, the track is completely out of place. It is a good decision that the said track, which is also sung in Mandarin, is not place in the actual film. It would have been cringe-worth to do so. Overall, the score for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon bends towards Oriental music filled with just the right tone while still relaying the story.

Most of its tracks are able to convey the right accessory to the scene and the viewer is able to see the effect (the beautifully choreographed moonlit rooftop scene exemplifies this). In this case, the score succeeds in achieving its goal. Works Cited Lee, Ang, dir. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. 2000. DVD. Sony Pictures Classics, 2000. Soundtrack LLC. “Album Information. Soundtrack. net. 2008 13 October 2008. http://www. soundtrack. net/albums/database/? id=2570. What music do you hear? When does it happen? Whats going on on screen at the time? Then write a 2-3 page original essay in which you describe:

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