Written by Pete Gallagher.
For those old enough to remember the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the impact it had on audiences and cinema at the time, the prospect of a sequel from Netflix, who are known for their quality original content, is a tantalizing one. Oddly enough this is exactly what stopped me from really enjoying Sword Of Destiny – as its comparisons for any Crouching Tiger fan are far too obvious to ignore and the film suffers greatly as a result.
The story is almost a complete retread – some bad dudes want the Green Destiny (a legendary sword) and some heroes come together to protect it. Yet where Ang Lee added an interesting feminist subtext that gave the film a unique flavor, the sequel feels more like a standard martial arts flick, which under any other circumstances I would not have a problem with, but as this is Crouching Tiger it really does feel like a step down.
I will admit it was great to see Michelle Yeoh return as Shu Lien, she still brings a grace and subtlety to the acting that is severely lacking in other places. Some of it works for sure but some aspects, such as the villain, feel far too cartoonish and at odds with the somber tone displayed elsewhere. There is a love story between Shu Lien and Donnie Yen’s Silent Wolf, the man whom she was originally supposed to marry 20 years ago, who was thought to be dead. While this is a nice way of linking back to the original, the love story again feels reminiscent of what was there between her and Chow Yun Fat as Li Mu Bai, yet nowhere near as moving.
The fight sequences are fun to watch but again they lack the scale and scope of the original’s epic set pieces. There is quite a lot fast cutting and editing in the fights which I found disappointing especially as the original made such an effort to have long sustained shots where you could actually see who was hitting who. An action scene on an ice covered lake was a highlight as was the central obligatory bar fight that introduced the other Wudang heroes. The heroes themselves were all likable enough but the film never really stopped to give them any great depth so it was difficult to invest in them.
Also, you may want to opt to switch on the Chinese language track and English subtitles. Watching it where every character speaks English just didn’t seem right to me. [Oddly, the film was shot in English, but switching to Chinese dub and English subs apparently provides extra lines of dialogue – Ed.]
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny was an entertaining watch and some aspects were good, but it sticks too close to the original. There are some solid fight scenes and Michelle Yeoh puts in a good performance, but the tone is all over the place and lacks the deeper themes and inspired film-making of the original.