Movie Review - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

This movie is the sequel to Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Netflix premiered this film online on the same day it opened in theaters. It got a limited, IMAX release, but many major theater-chains refused it, so its count was probably a dozen screens nationwide or less. Because of which, it will never become the box office success that its predecessor was. It won't get the Oscar push its predecessor got either, which ultimately was 10 nominations, including one for Best Picture and Best Director. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, Art Direction and Musical Score. Sadly, this sequel will not follow in those foot-steps.

Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as Shu Lien Yu, a master of a particular form of martial arts, known as Wudan. In the previous film, she was involved with another Wudan master who commanded a very special and very powerful sword called "Green Destiny." The previous film was about a younger woman who steals Green Destiny, as she attempts to break away from an arranged marriage and also break away from other societal norms to become her own master. It was a great expression of female empowerment, as well as being an amazing, action film.

This film feels like Stars Wars: The Force Awakens or even Netflix's Fuller House. It's a property that is trying to capitalize on the success or just the name of a popular title by lazily replaying all the plot points or story beats of the original but just switching a few things around. It's a remake or reboot, masquerading as a sequel. It's a recycled, carbon copy, but it highlights or plays up a lot of what made the previous film interesting as almost to be mocking.

The one thing that made the 2000 film compelling is the choreography or fighting style. The choreography was like ballet mixed with great acrobatics. It was quick, yet complicated and controlled, but it was fantastic because the fighters were almost weightless and like birds in flight. This is underscored during the 2000 film's iconic scene on top of trees in a bamboo forest. The fighters were like birds dueling each other amongst the leaves. Yet, Lee's scenes had such a seriousness to them, even when the characters were flying through the air like magic. The characters moved at times like feathers in the wind, but the scenes had a kind of heaviness to them emotionally.

The fight scenes in this film immediately lose that seriousness. They lose that heaviness emotionally. The fight scenes are a lot more comical. They feel like scenes that Jackie Chan might have choreographed. They feel like scenes pulled from The Karate Kid (1984) or 3 Ninjas (1992), which was the Home Alone (1990) of martial arts films. There are way more slapstick and physical gags, later devolving into CGI splattering and rendering not seen since Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

Just like in the previous film, the plot revolves around a young person who steals the sword, Green Destiny. The screenplay by John Fusco, based on a book by Wang Du Lu, doesn't make the thief a young woman. It's instead a young man named Wei Fang, played by Harry Shum Jr. (Glee). Wei's attempt to take Green Destiny is foiled by a martial arts student named Snow Vase, played by Natasha Liu Bordizzo. A lot of the film becomes about the relationship revealed between Wei Fang and Snow Vase.

The first, fight scene between Wei Fang and Snow Vase is very comical and feels like it belongs in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The scene becomes about not letting pottery or glassware fall and shatter, as much as it's about defeating an opponent. This can make the movie entertaining on a different level, but on a more cartoon or absurdity level. This is disappointing because the previous film didn't feel absurd. There was a genuineness and sincerity that is somewhat lost here.

Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, that absurdity pivots or is abated when the film increases the dead body count. The amount of bloodshed and death in this movie becomes higher and more intense. It introduces a few characters who are then slaughtered. It doesn't have the problem I had with 13 Assassins (2011) in which it juggled too many characters whose demises aren't resonant. We do feel the deaths here, but more time could have been devoted to filling them out.

Donnie Yen (Ip Man and Hero) co-stars as Silent Wolf, a master who was a former love interest of Shu Lien. Silent Wolf gathers up a gang of martial artists and swordsmen. One of whom is a woman. They go to Shu Lien to help her defend against an evil warlord named Hades Dai, played by Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story). Hades Dai wants Green Destiny and launches an attack against Shu Lien to get it.

Hades Dai has his own gang of martial artists and swordsmen, including a young woman named Mantis, played by Veronica Ngo. She becomes responsible for a lot of the bloodshed and death. We do get a little about her and why she's doing what she's doing, and we see her take out a lot of Silent Wolf's team, but we could have gotten a little more on Silent Wolf's team before they were summarily cut-down.

We do get way more melodrama this time around, more so than in the previous. This film is more of a romance than the previous. The previous had romance, but it wasn't as overwrought as it is here and the end-goal wasn't to have some sappy or sentimental conclusion where all the couples are together arm-in-arm. This film does have that end-goal. This film wanted a happy finish, or at least a more traditionally satisfying one.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.


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