Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny (2016)

Reviewed by Koray
March 3, 2016


Michelle Yeoh • Donnie Yen • Harry Shum Jr. • Natasha Liu Bordizzo • Jason Scott Lee • Eugenia Yuan • Veronica Ngo
Yuen Woo Ping
Yuen Woo Ping
A Netflix Original film available on Netflix streaming in both English and Mandarin language versions.

18 years after the events of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, famed warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) has attempted to withdraw from the martial world. But when the evil Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee ) tries to steal the legendary Green Destiny sword, Shu Lien is drawn back into a conflict alongside her new student Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo),  Hades Dai’s henchman Tie Fang (Harry Shum Jr.), and a man from her past called Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen).

Released 15 years after its predecessor,  SWORD OF DESTINY has the difficult task of being a worthy sequel to Ang Lee’s Academy award-winning modern classic from 2000. This time around, acclaimed director and action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping, known for fan favorite films like DRUNKEN MASTER (1978), SNAKE IN THE EAGLES SHADOW (1978), and TAI CHI MASTER (1993), takes over as director, while also handling the action sequences as he did for the original CTHD.

Yuen Woo Ping is a decidedly different type of filmmaker than Ang Lee, so it’s not surprising that SWORD OF DESTINY differs from its predecessor in several ways. One aspect is the addition of some attempts at humor, something of a trademark of Yuen Woo Ping, who has directed several kung fu comedy classics, and this gives the film some lighter moments. That’s not to say that SWORD OF DESTINY is an action comedy. Just that these less serious scenes stand out in contrast to the somber, melancholic tone of the original, and are somewhat awkward within the mostly serious tone of the sequel. Mainly, the this feels much more like a straight-forward action picture. Less than five minutes into the film, viewers are treated to two back-to-back action sequences, and though these, and the rest of the films action is entertaining, unfortunately SWORD OF DESTINY is lacking in most other areas.

The most notable difference between the sequel and the original is the language in the film. Unlike its predecessor which was shot in Mandarin, SWORD OF DESTINY was filmed in English. Upon release in Mainland China, the original CTHD was reportedly criticized for the strong accents of leads Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat, who were not native Mandarin speakers and performed their lines phonetically. SWORD OF DESTINY might face similar criticism related to its language, as the English language gives the film a very “Americanized” feel, somewhat robbing it of an authentic wuxia ambiance. At times, lines of dialogue come across as feeling very “written”,  and as a viewer I couldn’t help but think that Donnie Yen in particular looked like he was holding back the will to perform his lines in a Chinese dialect. This might come across as a bit of nit-picking, but it was quite an odd feeling to watch a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragonmovie and see “Men speaking in foreign language” in the Netflix closed captions when some background extras were speaking Mandarin. Netflix does offer a mandarin dubbed audio track too, but having watched both versions, I prefer the English language option simply due to it being the actors’ own voices.

Michelle Yeoh returns to the role of Yu Shu Lien and gives the film’s strongest performance, presenting a more withdrawn Shu Lien. Sadly her character has very little further development or motivation besides “Retrieve the Green Destiny”. So for more insight into Shu Lien as a character, the first film is required viewing. Silent Wolf, played by Donnie Yen, has much of his screen time devoted to fighting, while his place in the story is explained via a brief narrated flashback that doesn’t give him much depth. The onscreen chemistry between Yeoh and Yen seen in films like BUTTERFLY AND SWORD (1993), and Yuen Woo Ping’s own WING CHUN (1994) is not evident here. Likewise, the two younger lead characters of Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo in her film debut) and Tie Feng (Harry Shum Jr, GLEE), never get fleshed out, though Liu does a nice job for a first time performance. Jason Scott Lee, known for his portrayal of “The Little Dragon” in DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (1993), plays the role of  the film’s villain, whose sole character trait is “Evil”, while Eugenia Yuan (THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2), whose mother Cheng Pei Pei played the Jade Fox in CTHD, also gets stuck with an under-written, one-note role. Clocking in at roughly 90 minutes, excluding credits, the film never spends enough time developing its characters and story to create any interesting relationships or engaging character motivations.

The film reunites Yeoh, Yen and Yuen Woo Ping, whose last collaboration as a trio was over twenty years ago in 1994’s WNG CHUN, and Woo Ping does know how to make his stars look good onscreen. The addition of Yen in the cast has given the film more of an action focus, with him being an accomplished martial artist, unlike CTHD’s male lead Chow Yun Fat. Yen gets to show off some of his trademark kicking techniques alongside the sword duels, while Yeoh’s physical performance is excellent as usual. All the action scenes are shot and edited well with the usual level of creativity that one expects from Yuen Woo Ping, though some distractingly obvious CGI does show up from time to time, detracting from the overall experience.

To compare SWORD OF DESTINY to its predecessor could be seen as unfair, but it is hard to enjoy it as a standalone film due to the film’s reuse of certain plot points, returning musical cues, and a few sequences that at times seem to mirror CTHD with only slight variations. Additionally, certain aspects of the film are directly reliant on prior knowledge of the first film, even featuring certain characters and story elements that directly impact and alter events of the first film to some degree. Even when taken strictly as a straight-forward swordplay adventure on its own merits, SWORD OF DESTINY still suffers from some rather stilted dialogue, uneven acting, a thin plot, and the previously decried lack of character development. The action sequences, though well-choreographed, are not of a high enough quality to be the film’s saving grace.

Thieves trying to steal swords at night, masters retiring from the martial world, and battles for the Green Destiny… All of these things return in SWORD OF DESTINY, but this time around they are not handled with the same level of depth and care, and that seriously hurts the experience. As a faster-paced, smaller-scale follow up, the film sacrifices character development and plot in favor of action sequences which ends up making SWORD OF DESTINY both a very underwhelming sequel and a rather mediocre standalone wuxia experience.