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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Movie Review:'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny'

Outside of great action sequences, the weak sequel fails to keep our attention.

Review by Matt Cummings

To say that 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still a beloved film might be an understatement. The winner of four Oscars and nominated for six more, the film was a worldwide sensation, proving that Kung-Fu wasn't skin deep and that character dramas could exist quite well alongside insanely good action. But that was nearly two decades ago: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny barely warrants our attention, reminding us that sometimes follow-ups are hampered by the original, and other times betrayed by their own motives.

Set 20 years after the death of Li Mu Bai, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, sees our heroine Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) living a life of solitude. While travelling to the funeral of an old friend, her convoy is attacked by the powerful Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee). With the help of an unknown ally (Donnie Yen), Lien is able to escape, only to learn that the clan is after Bai's famed Green Destiny sword. Realizing that the funeral will itself turn into a bloodbath, Lien sends word out to her Iron Way comrades, which draws only five but very capable individuals. Led by the memories of her past and the destructive history behind Green Destiny, Lien must protect Green Destiny before Dai's team can seize it for their leader.

Destiny's problems begin early, as we never really get to know anyone except for our love interests. We don't understand how Hades Dai plans to use Green Destiny or why the sword is still revered as an ancient version of a WMD. The original explored that enough to make you think Green Destiny was actually alive. Not here: it's just a strong sword who in anyone's hands wouldn't be any better than if they had brought a lesser-made sword to the same party. Destiny also fashions the thinnest love story possible between Lien and Shadow, who were supposed to marry before Li Mu Bai entered the picture. Yen and Yeoh enjoy good chemistry, but there's simply not enough in Writer John Fusco's chintzy script. Those problems follow almost every character, holding back their potential in ways too numerous to count. Everyone becomes a caricature, from the drunken warrior to the beautiful assassin with perfect skin.

But Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny isn't all bad. Director Yuen Woo-ping provides us a lot of his textbook choreography, all of which we drink in like we've been walking through a desert of lesser action. In this way, Asian cinema has us beat. Destiny is also a beautiful film, enjoying a dual-format release (theatrical and on Netflix) and showing off 4k bleed-down in minute details. Ping provides us with fantastic action sequences, including quite an entrance for Yen. But that's where the comparison with its predecessor flatly ends, as Destiny soon becomes just another Kung-Fu flick, complete with cheesy lines and a tone that whipsaws between pretend serious and nearly slapstick. The original succeeded because it took the best elements out of the genre and merged it with a quality story. I know there's one in there, but it's pretty deeply buried.

The end of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny certainly suggests that we'll be receiving a third film, something that I think only superfans of either the franchise or the genre would care to know. This one is disappointing enough that a much more serious conclusion is the only way I'll pay attention. This one certainly isn't awful, but it utterly lacks a comparison to the original.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is rated PG-13 for martial arts violence and brief partial nudity and has a runtime of 96 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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