Directed by Yuen Woo-ping. Produced by David Thwaites and Harvey Weinstein. Written by John Fusco. Release date: February 26, 2016.
Of all the movies that were bound to get a far-too-late sequel, one that seemed incredibly unlikely was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The 2000 Ang Lee-directed film did incredibly well at the box offices in both China and North America and was critically acclaimed. If you haven’t watched it yet, you really do owe it to yourself to do so. And even though it was based on the fourth book in a five-book series, it felt self-contained. In 2013, though, talks began surfacing that the fifth book, Iron Knight, Silver Vase, was going to be made into a movie. Three years later, you can watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny on Netflix and on a few IMAX screens. Most chain theaters have decided not to show it, boycotting the Netflix’s simultaneous release schedule.
The sequel brings back Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien, a woman who now lives in relative solitude after the death of her beloved Li Mu Bai from the original. She protects “Green Destiny,” a legendary sword that acts as the film’s MacGuffin. A man named Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee) wants the sword. He initially sends just a single thief, Wei-Fang (Harry Shum, Jr.), but he fails to acquire it after being thwarted by another thief, Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Wei-Fang gets captured, while Snow Vase becomes Shu Lien’s apprentice. A man named Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), shows up to help protect the sword from the inevitable future waves of attack, and that’s basically all there is to the main plot.
I mention the “main” plot here because there are various subplots, a couple of which are romances. Shu Lien and Silent Wolf used to be an item, we learn, so the film makes us wonder whether or not they’ll recapture that lost love. Meanwhile, Snow Vase and Wei-Fang look googly-eyed and make smug, taunting remarks at one another. They, too, are in love. “Green Destiny” gets passed through so many hands that it’d be impossible to dust for fingerprints, hidden agendas and pasts are revealed, and lots and lots of one-on-one martial arts battles and sword fights take place, because in the years since the original – 18 years in the timeline of the film, 16 in real life – nobody has learned how to mob her.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny mimics the original in several ways. The plot is similar, many of the character interactions are reminiscent, and even a couple of the fight sequences will make you think of the first film. If this wasn’t billed as a sequel, it’d be called a rip-off. Drawing easy-to-see parallels between itself and the original do it no favors. As you watch it, you think about how great the original was, and perhaps find yourself wanting to re-watch it than continue with this one.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a movie that was probably doomed from the beginning. It feels like a cheap knockoff, even if most of its individual elements are decent or quite solid.
The conundrum here is a marketing one. If this wasn’t called a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, nobody would see it – and those few who did would call it derivative. While it might draw even more unfavorable comparisons as an official sequel, at least people are going to watch it. That’s the gamble that was taken, and I can understand it. Even those who think a sequel is a terrible idea might be curious enough to give Netflix a month-long subscription to watch it.
Interestingly – and I’m sure this was another marketing decision – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny was filmed almost entirely in English. If you watch it on Netflix – or in a Chinese theater, apparently – there’s an option to watch a dubbed version as well. The original was entirely in Chinese. If you watch the two back-to-back, it creates a bit of whiplash switching from one language to the other. I know that foreign language films often don’t do well in North America, in large part because lots of people don’t like reading subtitles – something I’ll never understand – but if there’s one film that shouldn’t have this problem, it’s the sequel to the highest-grossing foreign language film of all time.
But, if you can ignore the lineage of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, you’re likely going to have a decent time. Directed by Yuen Woo-ping – who worked as a fight choreographer on the original – you’re still going to get beautiful fight scenes. The cinematography is, at times, quite gorgeous. The acting is better than average. The writing … okay, the writing isn’t very good, and the plot is only fine. But it’s impossible not to feel like it all should be better than this because we’ve seen it better before. Is the movie decent? Yes, it is. But does it come across as a pale imitation of its predecessor? Sadly, the answer is also “yes.”
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a movie that was probably doomed from the beginning. A too-late sequel to a film that is almost universally loved is going to look bad by comparison, as there’s virtually no way that it would top or even match the original. It feels like a cheap knockoff, even if most of its individual elements are decent or quite solid. It’s almost impossible to disconnect it from the original, as it follows most of the paths that film laid down. Is it bad? No! It’s even pretty entertaining for the most part. But it can’t live up to the original, and feels worse than the sum of its parts because of this.
Bottom Line: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a film that can’t get out from the shadow of its predecessor.
Recommendation: You can do a lot worse than this. And if you already have Netflix, it might be worth a watch on a lazy night.[rating=3]