Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen
It’s true that not many were pleading for a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel, especially one that arrived about 15 years too late, but they made one anyway, bless them. Netflix’s third original movie takes us back to medieval China, and for better or for worse, fails to live up to the admittedly high mark set by the original.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny – that’s what the film is called – takes off 18 years after the end of the first movie, no doubt in a move to organically address the passage of time between the two films. Li Mu Bai is dead, and with his death, a void is left open atop the Martial World. A villainous man aptly named Hades Dai is planning to stage an attempt to capture that imaginary throne, but to become the ultimate ruler, he needs to get his hands on Li Mu Bai’s legendary sword: Green Destiny.
Now Green Destiny is one of the better MacGuffins out there. Much like the Elder Wand from Harry Potter or The One Ring from Lord of the Rings or Thor’s Mjolnir, only the worthy can conquer it. So straight away we know that Hades Dai stands no chance. But why let that get in the way of a good movie, right?
There’s no denying that Crouching Tiger 2 feels like a slighter version of the original. None of the main cast has returned, and neither has director Ang Lee. The only connective tissue this movie shares with the original in terms of characters is Michelle Yeoh’s warrior Yu Shu Lien, who is still heartbroken about her beloved Li Mu Bai’s death and has sworn to keep Green Destiny safe.
To help her in her cause strides in Donnie Yen’s Silent Wolf, backed with a motley crew of colourful characters. Silent Wolf is a character straight out of Sergio Leone westerns, inspired by Clint Eastwood’s Man With no Name, complete with a lonesome guitar theme and stellar headgear.
Read: Making a Murderer review
The movie is directed by Yuen Woo-ping, who famously choreographed the fight scenes of the first film and also directed Jackie Chan’s bonkers Drunken Master and the considerably more subdued but just as breathtaking Iron Monkey. Here, he has made two wise decisions: To retain that fluid fighting style and make those scenes the highlight of the film.
Fans of the original movie will recognise that what made it so special was not just the glorious martial arts, but the fact that deep down, it was a story about forbidden love. And it had a truly heartbreaking ending. Sadly, this film doesn’t have any of the same emotional heft. But what it does have – and like I said, they’ve really highlighted it – is the sweet, sweet action. Don’t get me wrong, there still is a carefully constructed plot here, one that echoes the beats of the original a tad too closely, but it just isn’t that strong.
It’s also drop-dead gorgeous to look at. It’s shot by Newton Thomas Sigel, who’s probably most famous for doing all the Bryan Singer X-Men movies, but his most notable contribution, without any doubt, is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Here, he lights the sets with stylish precision. His camera glides in and out of the action like a feather.
The vast Chinese landscapes – beautifully rendered with CGI, by the way – resemble those old paintings by the masters like Guo Xi and Li Cheng. In China, landscape painting has always been, and still is, perhaps the highest form of art. And it’s great to see that some of that has rubbed off in this movie. There’s an earnestness to this film is encouraging. It may be a pointless sequel, but at least no one involved can be accused of laziness.
And since it is partially produced by Netflix, filmed in New Zealand, and unlike the original, isn’t in Mandarin, there is a lot here to attract western audiences. Which is somewhat unnecessary considering how successful the original film was. Crouching Tiger 2 is more a fantasy along the lines of LoTR than a wuxia film. It has western elements and a stunning action scene on a moonlit frozen lake has definite echoes of that final fight between Rey and Kylo Ren in Star Wars. The final showdown, on the other hand, is straight out of Kung Fu Panda 2.
So one thing’s for sure: It’s not as good as the first movie, but honestly, did anyone expect it to be? Crouching Tiger fans will certainly find something to admire and for everyone else, it’s a perfectly fun movie to Netflix and chill. I’m not complaining.
Follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @NaaharRohan