It’s been a decade and a half since the original wuxia (martial arts) epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – perhaps director Ang Lee’s greatest cinematic achievement – took the world by storm with its balletic and influential fight sequences. So much so that fans didn’t even mind the subtitles.
Nearly two decades – and a complete change in film distribution (Netflix) – later, the series makes a humbled return with the sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny with Michelle Yeoh as the sole returning character from the original and acclaimed action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (The Matrix) directing. Fans hoping for a similarly transcendent experience may want to keep their expectations in check.
Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) has carved a calm and quiet life for herself, but trouble seems to follow her wherever she goes. Mourning the death of her friend Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), Shu Lien attempts to find new purpose. The young and feisty Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) finds her way to Shu Lien and requests an apprenticeship, but Lien declines, feeling Snow is already well trained. Once again, a group of thieves are after the coveted and powerful emerald sword known as the Green Destiny.
One of the thieves, Tiefeng (Harry Shum, Jr.), is captured after attempting to steal the sword. While in captivity he strikes a reluctant bond with Snow Vase, though the former is unsure of his intent and unsure whether their bond has actually transformed him or not. Vase has a troubled past, one hiding many secrets, including the suggested death of her mother (who was also the person that trained her).
Furthermore, it turns out that Yen’s Silent Wolf is alive and well, and we are introduced to his character in a bombastic tavern fight that riles up some supporters – Silver Dart Shi (Juju Chan), Flying Blade (Chris Pang), Turtle Ma (Darryl Quon) – for an old-fashioned Western bar brawl, Eastern style.
Apart from impressive fight sequences and gorgeous cinematography that livens up the world it depicts with vibrancy, Sword of Destiny feels like the sort of unnecessary sequel that almost seems irrelevant 16 years later. Overall, it feels like a straight-to-video movie that includes all the exciting components (action scenes) that would attract a casual movie fan, or in this case, a hardcore martial arts fan. The appearances of superstars Yeoh and Yen are definitely pluses, and while the death-defying battles are not as impressive or unique as its predecessor, the action still manages to entertain thanks to the well-crafted sequences by director Woo-ping.
In fact, those fight scenes are the film’s bread and butter as without them there’s not much left. Simply put, The Sword of Destiny lacks a focused narrative as the filmmakers take an extended break from the emerald sword plot to show off fighting eye-candy and nearly forget that there’s a story to wrap-up.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a decent action movie for martial arts fans, though they shouldn’t expect the same profundity or narrative structure of the original, which this follow-up painstakingly tries to mimic. I’ve seen worse, and Woo-ping’s choreography make this one nice to look at with stunning and lush cinematography – and frequent acrobatic battles. Lots of them. While nowhere as entertaining as its predecessor, fans of the wuxia genre will undoubtedly be pleased with this ordinary sequel to Ang Lee’s original masterpiece.