It’s been nearly 20 years since the first movie was released and since then, many viewers have been given new ways to get into martial arts and wuxia movies. In that time, I have seen many outlets spring up in my region selling all manner of films with some memorable titles being Hero, House of Flying Daggers and more recently The Monkey King and the Ip Man series both starring Donnie Yen. With the rise of Netflix, it’s become a lot easier for fans to access their favorite Asian films and that is what makes this new Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon movie memorable yet curious release.
Netflix has been working with some major movie companies to actually do simultaneous releases on the big screen and home. So, believe it or not, if you didn’t want to watch this at home, you could always go watch it on the big screen. I am not sure how the economics works but I am curious to know how much Netflix paid The Weinstein Company for the right to broadcast this film and how it adds in to the American box office. One other notable issue with the film that fans should be aware of, especially for those who hate reading subtitles, and that is this film’s dialogue is in English and not dubbed possibly in an attempt to gain a wider audience.
So, the plot of the movie is 16 years later, and everyone is still chasing after the legendary “Green Destiny” sword. Michelle Yeoh, the only returning member from the original movie, reprises her role of Yu Shu Lien, as the guardian of the sword. There is nothing groundbreaking with the plot and even as a viewer, I was asking “Why didn’t you guys take the sword to Wu Dan Mountain already?” It’s as if this movie played out to the same beats and tones of the original but it just doesn’t have the heart of the first. Do you have a world weary protector of a legendary sword? Check. Do you have a girl who may or may not be evil and in need of training? Check. Is she in love with a guy who wants the same thing? Check. A shadowy underworld that also wants said sword? Check. You got yourself a movie.
Speaking of Yeoh’s return, the old cast members are sorely missed. Chow Yun Fat’s Li Mu Bai obviously wouldn’t be in the film due to a slight case of death and Zhang Ziyi didn’t want to sign on if Ang Lee wasn’t directing so we are left with a hodgepodge of characters that you really don’t want to get too attached to except Donnie Yen’s Silent Wolf. But before you tune out, there is Natasha Lui Bordizzo as Snow Vase who fights Harry Shum Jr. (remember him from Glee?) as Wei-Fang and eventually they develop an interest in each other. The movie’s biggest Achilles’ heel is that outside of Yeoh’s and Yen’s characters, the rest of the characters are underdeveloped including the films villain Hades Dai played by Jason Scott Lee. Once the main characters are in play, you find out that, similar to the first one, everyone is chasing the Green Destiny for their own reasons and it’s played out in a memory or voice over which leads to a fight scene. Just like the first, the fight choreography is good but again unlike the first, there is almost no heart nor anything groundbreaking.
Newton Thomas Siegel’s cinematography at many points is gorgeous and that at times is what kept me into the movie. Sadly some of the scenery is CGI but on a 4K HDTV it still looks good; however you can really tell what’s real and what isn’t. One of the best scenes is towards the end as several of the films protagonists do battle on a lake of ice.
In the end, Sword of Destiny won’t be that film that stirs Western fans to run out to get their fill of Asian films like its predecessor did. As a matter of fact I would caution new fans to watch the first one and then this one to see why it doesn’t quite stack up to this. It’s not that this film is bad, it’s just that besides the visuals and some actually good martial arts sequences, even Donnie Yen’s appearance can’t make this a great film.
2.5 Green Destiny swords out of 5