When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon hit U.S. shores and became an unlikely, unstoppable sensation in 2000, a lot of people had never seen anything like it. That’s not to say that nothing like it had ever been made or even carved out an American audience. But it is to say that, for a lot of us of a certain age and/or exposure level, this was the martial arts film that explained why people could be so passionate about the genre. Sixteen years on, its sequel explains a whole lot about the state of the movie industry while doing nothing to advance the martial arts genre. With its broadest strokes, Sword of Destiny feels like a worthy successor. It brings back Michelle Yeoh as the great warrior Yu Shu Lien and puts her in a mentor/master role. Her charge is to keep the “Green Destiny,” the sword referenced in the title, out of the hands of Hades Dai, a warlord played by Jason Scott Lee (you might remember him from the previous live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book).
In order to do it, she enlists the help of young protegee Snow Vase, played by Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who she begins to train, and a few other allies hastily brought together at a watering hole outside Beijing that just so happens to include Silent Wolf, a past love played by Donnie Yen. There’s a lot going on here, including a love-hate romance between Snow Vase and Yu Shu Lien’s captive, Wei Fang (Harry Shum Jr.), and if we’re starting a list of things that didn’t work, this should go at the top.
It’s quite a nice touch to make Yeoh’s character the connector between these two films, and it’s easy to appreciate and applaud that she is passing the torch to the feisty Bordizzo. But there’s a Fellowship of the Ring thing going on as this ragtag team is brought together that feels wholly unnecessary, or, to put it more bluntly, like a complete waste of time.
Those missteps might have been easier to forgive if the action sequences were more dazzling. Why they play mediocre … well, you just have to wonder, don’t you?
Have we gotten spoiled in the intervening years since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonwas released? There seems little arguing that there’s been an exponential increase in the sophistication of action scenes and special effects over the last decade or so.
What about the film’s release on streaming? How good can a soaring martial artist really look when his or her canvas is only 60 inches as opposed to 60 feet? Is this the kind of movie that is especially prone to suffer in our small-screen, VOD world? If so, what a cruel twist of fate. The Lord Netflix, which bought and distributed the movie to its millions of subscribers, truly doth giveth and taketh away.
I must confess, I don’t have the answers. I just know the magic of the originalCrouching Tiger movie was nowhere to be found in Sword of Destiny. The authenticity and spectacle of the original gives way to an Epcot Center brand of martial arts flick in the sequel.
Yes, the superficials feel right from a distant. Move a little bit closer, though, and the outlines look expertly traced. They’re perfectly drawn, but everything in between — right down to the English language screenplay — is ultimately hollow.