Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny
PLOT: A cruel warlord (Jason Scott Lee) vows to steal the infamous Green Destiny, the sword of the late Li Mu Bai. His former lover, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) vows to guard it with her life, and finds unlikely help from another former flame, the stoic Silver Wolf (Donnie Yen).
REVIEW: Despite being a worldwide hit, people weren't exactly clamouring for a CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON sequel, mostly due to the fact that director Ang Lee seemed to have no interest in revisiting that world, based on the novels of Du Lu Wang. Then again, when a movie makes that much profit a sequel is going to get made one way or another, and now we have CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY. Bypassing North American theatres (save for a dozen or so IMAX showings), this one is a highly promoted Netflix original in association with The Weinstein Company, whose head honcho, Harvey Weinstein, has called this a passion project.
Good intentions aside, you'd be hard-pressed to find any of the original film's magic in this cut-rate sequel. Despite cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and the great Yuen Woo Ping on-board as director, this feels like a low-rent follow-up. With an overabundance of shoddy CGI, SWORD OF DESTINY has more in common with a nineties MORTAL KOMBAT clone than it does the original. By the time Michelle Yeoh faces a CGI flying witch, you'll wonder how anyone thought this would please fans of the original.
One puzzling choice was the decision to shoot this in English, with a lot of obvious ADR. There's also something very strange about the fact that the extras are all speaking Mandarin while the leads speak English – with odd, unnatural line-readings. The acting is very inconsistent. Michelle Yeoh, as always, has presence but is too often sidelined in the action scenes, when she dominated the original. Current martial arts superstar Donnie Yen handles his English dialogue relatively well, but seems less engaged than usual, as if he's bored with this kind of Wu Xia film after acting in more innovative examples like SEVEN SWORDS and DRAGON (aka WU XIA).
Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen (both of whom are Mainland superstars now) sitting this one out, Glee's Harry Shum Jr., and Natasha Liu Bordizzo are cast in roles closely tailored after those parts from the original, with a tacked-on love story and a mentor/rivalry between Bordizzo and Yeoh. It's very familiar, and the two aren't given much to work with.
While you'd assume that with Yuen Woo-Ping directing the fight scenes would be good, they're dull as can be, with not a memorable one among the lot. When a battle on a frozen lake between Donnie Yen and multiple adversaries is boring, you've got problems. It's hard to believe this is directed by the same maestro who directed IRON MONKEY. What's worse is how threadbare a production this feels like compared to the China-shot original. Most of the movie takes place at the Yeoh character's base, while the ending has a heavy green-screen feel. Jason Scott Lee chews a bit of scenery as the main baddie, but his final battle with Yen has no urgency whatsoever.
While it was clear from the first couple of minutes that all the poetry of the original would be absent, it's even more of a shame that the action is so poor as why else does a movie like this exist? By the time characters who appear only a few minutes earlier are being eulogized by other sad-faced characters we just met all but the more devoted fans will have turned this off to go watch something else in their Netflix queue. With so many other good martial arts actioners in the library, there's really no reason to watch this unless you're a Yuen/Yeoh/Yen completest.
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