CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY Review
Director: Woo-Ping Yuen
It’s been 16 years since CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON hit theaters, and incidentally, it’s been 16 years since I’ve seen that movie. The film marked Ang Lee’s first big break in the West and is regarded as a venerable classic of Wuxia cinema. Now, Netflix and Harvey Weinstein have dug up its grave to bring us a sequel that no one really wanted or expected but will have to put up with anyway, in the form of SWORD OF DESTINY. Because if FURY ROAD taught us anything, it’s that audiences love extensive use of wires and color correction.
I have zero recollection of the original CROUCHING TIGER, but newcomers can rest easy knowing that SWORD OF DESTINY, like FURY ROAD, has little to nothing to do with its source material. Michelle Yeoh reprises her role from the first film, having recovered Chow Yun Fat’s Green Destiny sword after 18 years of searching. Funny enough, Yeoh is the only reprisal from the first film, as 18 years of hermitage has transformed Fat into a perpetually exhausted Donnie Yen (and who can say why Lee didn’t return to the director’s chair?). Alongside a pair of impossibly fashionable and attractive youths (Harry Shum, Jr. and Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and a band of mercenaries with names like Thunder Fist Chan, this dirty half-dozen must protect the titular blade from the wicked Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), perhaps the most intense-looking Qing warlord to ever grace the silver screen.
Also from Dai’s merry band of basement gimps
Immediately noticeable is Woo-Ping’s decision to shoot SWORD OF DESTINY in English, jarring given the first movie’s entirely Mandarin cast. Though English is indeed the way the film was meant to be heard, it comes across as a fluke. Thanks to a combination of poor sound mixing and astoundingly hammy performances across the board, the movie sounds like an inferior dub rather than legitimate audio. The effect is further compounded when the background extras can be clearly heard chattering away in their native Mandarin while the main cast prattles about in English. Was it a boorish decision at a corporate level meant to broaden appeal? Is it just plain bad acting? It might be both, but it doesn’t really matter why, since the film just sounds awful.
The other readily apparent aspect of SWORD OF DESTINY is how fun it can be. There’s a mischievous sense of humor often at play during the fairly innovative fight sequences. Scenes like a lunch lady using both her cutlery and cuisine to fend off thugs, or two thieves forced to fight silently in a room stacked with delicate China (no pun intended), feel far more fresh than the bastardized Wuxia I went into this film expecting. Yes, there is some pretty terrible CG work, but the majority of the effects here are still practical. The most important thing is that the action is satisfying, and that’s really what matters in the end.
The Iron Way demands one to fight in only the most uncomfortable positions
Still, this is a film, and it’s as a film I must judge it. SWORD OF DESTINY is one of the most bizarrely paced stories I’ve had the misfortune to see in a long time. Yen rides around collecting cannon fodder to protect the sword while Yeoh trains Shum and Bordizzo for a majority of the movie. Now, I know plenty of blockbuster movies, ranging from KINGSMAN to ENDER’S GAME, feature overlong training segments that take up most of the film, but there is still a clear conflict throughout. The entirety of SWORD OF DESTINY, on the other hand, feels like just the first act to a far longer film. We spend over an hour watching our scrappy band get built up, only to see them throw themselves upon the villains’ swords in the last 15 minutes. It’s a stunted climax to an unenthusiastic handy of a story, strung together by only a handful of stand out fights in between. When the credits roll after the abrupt conclusion, the audience is left wondering if this was a film or a choreography reel, since there was clearly no story worth telling in the past hour and a half.
SAY ANYTHING played out a lot differently in the Chinese version
I went into the CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON sequel with low expectations. I became optimistic as I warmed to the film’s oft-kooky charm, but even synchronized skating swordfights and ridiculous roundhouse kicks can’t save this movie from turning into a stuttering mess. Make no mistake, this is the direct-to-DVD sequel you thought it would be. Scratch that; it’s more like the spin-off film they show you in preparation for a studio tour of where they shot Ang Lee’s film. Do with that information what you will.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend