After fifteen years, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has become a cinematic classic, winning four Academy Awards in cinematography, music, sound direction, and as a foreign language film. A sequel to Crouching Tiger should then aim to exceed our expectations, taking us in places we haven’t been, improving upon the past, and honoring the work done before. Unfortunately, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny failed to capture the same voice, tone, feel, and artistic vision of the original, reducing the world and narrative into a mediocre action movie with no emotional depth, art, or beauty. In fact, the similarities between the two films are so few that it can hardly justify using the same title.
Written by John Fusco and directed by Woo-Ping Yuen, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny follows Yu Shu Lien years after the death of her master Li Mu Bai. With the help of her new protégé, her friend Silent Wolf and his warriors, she attempts to protect The Green Destiny from the hands of the raider Hades Dai.
A key component to the world of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is its rich Chinese history, culture, and language. The actors spoke mandarin, giving it further historical and cultural weight, immersing the audience into that world. With that said, it boggles the mind that director Woo-Ping Yuen shot Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny in English. The former film set a precedent that shouldn’t be ignored. Not only does it break consistency, it just makes no sense that Yu Shu Lien spoke Mandarin in the first film, but now speaks English.
Peter Pau won an Oscar for Best Cinematography for the original. Following in his footsteps would be the logical choice, matching his style, and keeping in tune with what he did before. Instead the cinematography and coloring for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny couldn’t have strayed further away from Pau’s style. The lighting was poor at times, and the shots were awkward at others. In some cases, it tried to match the look and feel of the original fighting sequences, but it couldn’t match the tension. The color correction weighed heavily on high saturation with low contrast, making the grass look bright and green while the characters were dull and gray. Not only did this change the feel of the movie, but it also felt overdone, sloppy, and distracting. The heavy exposition in both the voice-over narration, something else Crouching Tiger didn’t have, and the dialogue was unbearable. Everything was explained with voice-over within the long, drawn out flashbacks, unnecessarily slowing down the main narrative.
The story wasn’t much better, essentially copying from the original, hinging everything upon The Green Destiny sword. However, instead of digging deeper into the mythology, they watered it down. The main characters were equally weak with no motivation except what the plot demanded. The villain was a caricature with bad acting and clichéd lines. The tension, the stakes, and the emotional depth were absent, leaving behind a shallow story. Even the comedy fell flat with awkward fake laughing from the actors and poor slapstick comedy in the fight scenes.
A small light in the darkness is the tightly choreographed fighting. They nailed down the style and intensity the former film brought to the table, but as the movie drew on, it became too much. For every one-fight scene in Crouching Tiger, there were three more in the sequel. While the choreography was impressive, the lack of stakes or tension removed the conflict’s teeth, making it feel more like a dance than a true fight to the death.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a dim shadow of the original classic, adding no value to the story or characters, and ultimately removing any reason for it to be made. While some may enjoy it purely for the choreographed fight scenes, most will expect more from the sequel to a classic. While Crouching Tiger will be remembered for quite awhile, this movie will be forgotten among Netflix’s vast movie collection.
Images courtesy of: Netflix