Since I first heard about it I have been pretty apprehensive about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. It would only get worse as more and more information came out. The first sign of trouble for me was director Ang Lee not returning. Then came the news that, in fact, the majority of the cast wouldn’t be returning and instead we were getting Jason Scott Lee and the Asian guy from Glee instead. Needless to say this felt like a step down. The final nail in my pre-hype coffin being the fact that it would be filmed in English instead of Chinese. Not even an appearance from the greatest person alive, Donnie Yen, could save this. Nevertheless I’m a sucker and completionist so I knew I had to give this a watch.
It’s been several years since the original film and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) has been living a life of solitude. When her friend Sir Te dies she is called upon to protect Green Destiny sword from warlord Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee). Returning to civilization Lien learns that not only is a former lover, Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), alive but she also takes on a student named Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Snow Vase seems to have a connection with one of Dai’s agents Wei-Fang (Harry Shum Jr). With their shared past everyone’s loyalties are in question.
If the story sounds a bit familiar it’s because it is a lesser reworking of the original film. While I highly doubt that was the intent that’s how the whole thing feels. At a certain point it became a game for me to point out what correlated with the first movie. It’s particularly obvious when it comes to Wei-Fang and Snow Vase. It’s essentially Yu Jialong and Dark Cloud from the first movie but with less chemistry. It’s a bummer too because I generally enjoy the film when they distance itself from the first film. For example Hades Dai has a blind psychic in his army. This dip into mysticism is a different direction that I really wish they would have gone with. Unfortunately it’s a relatively minor plot point and we focus on Silent Wolf filling in for Chow Yun-Fat.
Then there’s the elephant in the room, the movie being done in English. While it was a bit weird at first it didn’t hinder the story or acting to me. What was too distracting to ignore is how everything looks. Partially filmed in New Zealand all of the outside sets look like Lord of the Rings. Everything is rolling green hills and it feels off. Just as distracting is some of the green screen used. It can get really bad even by Chinese CGI standards. As a matter of fact everything seems to have a weird sheen to it. A brightness that you have to get used to. Maybe it’s film quality but it gives the movie an almost TV-esque quality to it.
Thankfully Crouching Tiger 2 isn’t all bad. Yuen Woo-Ping pulls double duty as director and action director and it works out great. While it looks more traditional than Ang Lee’s original Ping does a great job capturing the action scenes. Each fight has it’s own unique look without ever resorting to shaky cam. One particularly inspired fight scene is atop a frozen lake between Silent Wolf and Wei-Fang. I would also say that the acting in general works out pretty well. As mentioned the chemistry isn’t as good this time around but the performances have a more humorous tone to it that totally works. While hardly the highest praise everybody is likable and kept me interested in what’s going on.
Doing a sequel to classic film is always a risk and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is no exception. And like so many sequels before it it fails to match it’s predecessor by copying the original too much. As a film on it’s own? It’s alright. It’s a typical wuxia adventure with some good fight scenes now and then. While not the masterpiece the original it is a fun and enjoyable kung fu flick. Just don’t get your hopes too high.