Home > Film > Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s sequel lacks cutting edge…

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s sequel lacks cutting edge…

'Sword of Destiny' lacks cutting edge...

Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ is a much anticipated sequel, but  when it comes to judging it, does the the original cast too long a shadow..?

The original Crouching Tiger captivated the world and proved that a Mandarin-language-swordplay-romance could win over audiences worldwide… and opened all manner of door for its cast and crew. Director Ang Lee, action director , leading man Chow Yun-fatt and leading lady garnered new fans and two newcomers Chang Chen and especially Zhang Zhiyi would find fame from this film. Cinematographer Peter Pau took home an Oscar for his work.

Sixteen years later The Weinstein Company and Netflix  have unleashed a somewhat overdue sequel and shot it in English.  The film once more tells an epic story of lost love, young love, a legendary sword and one last opportunity at redemption… with an epic martial arts battle between good evil deciding the fate of the martial world. The film, which formally debuted on Netflix this weekend has already proved divisive – even to the extent that some cinema-chains  threatened to boycott screening the film due to the distribution decision.

So was it worth the wait?

Sword of Destiny

The truth is – apart from the politics of getting the production rights –  it’s not clear, after taking 16 years to make a sequel… why they bothered. The first film had an epic feel to it, while this belated sequel looks smaller and cheaper compared to that original and ultimately lacks all of the charm and wonder of the first. I’ll be honest and say that if it wasn’t called Crouching Tiger 2, it might be less disappointing. The original, while not breaking new ground for Asian audiences, did break a lot of new ground internationally and gave a lot of people their first insight into the world of Wuxia, the Chinese martial arts world where swords have a legend of their own, and gravity holds back no swordman or woman!

The new film is shot in English, which is a little confusing, as it’s not as if the first film failed at the box office due to it being in Mandarin and with subtitles. I’ve worked with Yuen Woo-ping a number of times and his English is  limited… so I do wonder how much of the drama was lost due to language issues. (There were  ‘ghost directors’ lending a hand on the English drama side according to various members of cast and crew, which makes the level of drama even more disappointing!) The cast led by and Michelle Yeoh also includes Jason Scott Lee, Eugenia Yuan ( Three: Extremes), Harry Shum Jr (Glee), Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Veronice Ngo, Roger Yuan, Woon Young Park, Chris Pang, and Juju Chan… and all of them speak English, but with very varying accents. Those range from very British through Boston via Hong Kong, through Australian, , Canada and even Norwegian Vietnamese, so the quite blatant mixture can be more than a little jarring. (For example: imagine making Once Upon A Time in America with a cast of White guys speaking Mandarin with varying accents!)

The name-recognition in the cast is undeniable but not consistently rewarded. Donnie Yen gets some nice moments as the wondering swordsman who can face any opponent in battle, but who can’t come to terms with his feelings for the love of his life. The normally reliable Michelle Yeoh gives a performance that is surprisingly a little stiff.  Jason Scott Lee makes the most of his character,  the villainous and wonderfully named Hades Dai, Eugenia Yuan also makes a memorable turn as the blind enchantress, while Natashia Liu doesn’t come across as anything more engaging than a spoiled child. Sadly, Harry Shum is given nothing to do with his character and Veronica Ngo’s cameo is, in truth, nothing special. However the foursome of Juju Chan, Chris Pang, Woon Young Park and Daryl Quon try their best as the film’s versions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Shakespeare’s side-characters in Hamlet

Michelle Yeoh in 'Sword of Destiny'

Michelle Yeoh in ‘Sword of Destiny’

The acting and story – adapted by John Fusco from Du Lu Wang’s original Iron Knight – Silver Vase – may be disappointing what of the action itself? Sadly.. even that fails to break new ground, as it seems that even in the action department, Yuen Woo-ping wasn’t given the full control you’d expect. It’s a little strange to see Charlie Nguyen (director of The Rebel) listed as the Second Unit Director. The action in the film is… adequate but with Yuen Woo-ping’s name attached to the film you expect far more, and this feels to me like a director not being given the chance to really do what he’s best at, or the best with the cast and crew he has.

There ARE some nice moments, the opening ambush where we see Donnie and Michelle in action, the restaurant battle, the Ninja attack, but the truly breathtaking action proves to be few and far between. The night-time battle on a frozen lake works well, but the finale falls into badly-handled CGI’ness which ends up looking cheap and nasty rather than epic. The film’s best moments turn out to be where it’s NOT trying to emulate the original. You do find moments that hint at what could have been a very different and far superior movie to the one we are given, moments where Yen’s Silent Wolf character almost gets to be Han Solo with some reckless aplomb… but these moments are not enough to lift a movie with a scant 90 minutes of running time.

The film opens with Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) discussing the fact that a scholar might be remembered for five years after his death but a swordsman legacy will linger much longer. She notes it is meant to be a compliment, but she feels it to be a curse. Sadly the curse of Sword of Destiny, is how strong the memory of the original Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon remains… and the sequel falls far into the shadows of the film it is trying much too hard to copy.


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