Well, I finally got to see CTHD tonight, at the very nice Cornerhouse theatre in Manchester, UK. After so many months of anticipation I had a full blown anxiety attack when a friend who asked to come at the last minute turned up half an hour late, but thankfully we made it just in time. I knew not to expect a perfect film thanks to quite a few reports on alt.asian-movies saying that people who had done so were disappointed, and hence with the correct level of expectation I was able to enjoy the result... a very good film. Very good!
The flaws with the film were basically a) Some pretty crude wirework - too much like puppets on strings, more Iron Monkey than A Chinese Ghost Story. Some of it was good though, and it impressed the members of the audience with less experience of better work. b) Lack of a final climactic battle.
Pretty much everything else about the film is good or great though. There are some beautifully choreographed fights with hands and weapons - mainly swordfights. Incredibly fast and intricate. Young Zhang Ziyi is amazingly acrobatic, and Michelle Yeoh is still well up to the task as well. Surprisingly, Chow Yun-Fat is very good in the action scenes too, putting in a convincing performance as the super-calm Wudang master.
The acting all round is excellent - amongst the career bests for Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh in fact, and Zhang Ziyi is superb (and beautiful) - the film is basically hers. The characters are well developed, interesting and believable.
The plot is wilfully "pulp martial arts" - it's not trying to be overly profound or epic in scope, it's just a nicely developed traditional tale of magic swords, rival masters and long held grudges. Also very fine cinematography, though not necessarily the best I've seen - quite restrained anyway. Some beautiful locations but that's only to be expected really.
The film is quite reserved overall, fight scenes hugely excepted - certainly far less manic than the usual Hong Kong approach to the genre (e.g. it makes sense :-). There's a little bit of comedy (and a little bit of romance) though.
Basically, don't expect it to change your lives because you all have experience of films that are in the same sort of league. There's probably no single aspect in which it is the "best ever", but such high quality across *every* aspect is very rare, and the whole package stands up very well. Bearing that in mind I don't think you'll be disappointed. It is a very good film!