CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY (卧虎藏龙:青冥宝剑) (NETFLIX) (2016)
SYNOPSIS: Renowned warrior Yu Shu-Lien comes out of retirement to keep the legendary Green Destiny sword away from villianous warlord Hades Dai.
16 years have passed since Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won four Oscars. Time and tide waits for no man thus not surprisingly, it comes across as a little too late and too little substance for this Yuen Woo-Ping’s helmed sequel entitled Sword of Destiny.
Funded by The Weinstein Company and released locally by Netflix, Sword of Destiny is set 18 years after the events of the first movie. The renowned female warrior Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) continues to mourn for the death of his beloved Li Mu Bai (played by Chow Yun-Fat but is too expensive to make a flashback cameo here). She leads a solitude life until the son of Sir Te engages her help to protect the Green Destiny, the powerful sword so desired by the villainous Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee) of the West Lotus clan.
Knowing Lien will be outnumbered; Lien’s supposedly dead fiancé Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen) has been secretly lending her a hand and also recruiting volunteers to assist Lien in protecting the Green Destiny. While attempting to steal the sword, one of Hades’ henchmen, Wei-Fang (Harry Shum Jr) is captured by Lien and a mysterious young woman, Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Who in the world are Snow Vase and Wei-Fang? Are they related? And will Shu Lien and Silent Wolf rekindle their long lost love?
The screenplay by John Fusco (The Forbidden Kingdom, Marco Polo) does no favour to the original Wang Du Lu’s acclaimed Iron Crane pentalogy. It sorely lacks the subtlety and elegance of its predecessor and Fusco’s script only exists to rush through the emotion, characters and replicating the magic of the first Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The characters of Snow Vase and Wei-Fang are obvious homage to Zhang Ziyi’s Jen and Chang Chen’s Lo though it’s pretty evident which pair of lovers will engage you in the end.
Making things worse is the English dialogue which makes the entire viewing experience suffocating. Even though Yeoh and Chow isn’t that proficient in Mandarin in the original at least it feels far more satisfying to sit through halting Chinese than English which is obviously an ill-match for a title that is set in ancient China. Remember RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists anyone?
Yeoh continues to impress with her subdued thoughtful performance, as she is the only link left for audiences to connect back to the storyline. Action superstar Donnie Yen pathetically has little to shine in his role as Silent Wolf, in other words you probably love Li Mu Bai in his silky white robe than Silent Wolf’s cowboy disguise. Jason Scott Lee on the other hand has the thankless task of being the antagonist, a character that receives not much characterization except that he wants the sword and he is the foe of Silent Wolf.
If story is not a major concern in your selection, then you will also be disappointed by the unimaginative, tiring action choreography by Yuen and his team. In Sword of Destiny, you will not find any exhilarating pursuits among rooftops or breath-taking sword fights above treetop, all you have is a boring fight which took place on an artificial frozen lake and an incredible CGI-heavy climatic battle on a pagoda.
Honestly, this is not a wu xia movie that you will find yourself loving. There are many out there after the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that much deserved your attention. You can swiftly conclude that this has neither the painful romance, thrilling action pieces or the honorable codes of swordsmen which nearly everyone around the world love in Ang Lee’s tale.
Review by Linus Tee