With hits like Wet Hot American Summer and Arrested Development, Netflix has been riding high on nostalgic rebooting, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny shows a more vulnerable side to the streaming service’s original content (we’ll save Fuller House for the TV section). What once was a whimsical callback to acrobatic martial arts has become a repetitive, stone-etched journey that’s heavy on outdated pageantry, and light on mystical amazement.
Still based on Du Lu Wang’s source novelization (in theory), Woo-Ping Yuen steps in to direct a screenplay by John Fusco, but with Ang Lee nowhere to be found, ancient folklore becomes weightless, cut-and-dry whispers. This is a film built on patience and grace, which, unfortunately, are the two most mishandled aspects of Woo-Ping’s fifteen-years-later sequel.
Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as Yu Shu Lien, who once again finds herself ensnared in a battle for the Green Destiny sword. The West Lotus clan, a rival faction, will stop at nothing to snatch the powerful artifact, until ultimate power is achieved. A young woman named Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) helps Yu Shu Lien by capturing Tiefang (Harry Shum Jr.), a dashing thief, while a band of mercenaries lend their battle expertise in the name of Green Destiny. Warriors with names like Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), Silver Dart (Juju Chan), and Thunder Fist (Woon Young Park) fight against the West Lotus scourge, but the attacking leader, Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), will not be deterred easily.
It’s worth noting that Woo-Ping Yuen was the action choreographer on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, so he’s not foreign to the tightrope-gliding style of these fleet-footed characters. Silent Wolf dips and dashes like he’s skating on air, prancing about with the stealthy alertness of Solid Snake and Agent 47’s test tube superbaby. Action remains focused around aerial artistry, remaining in tempo as fighters sway back and forth with painstaking deftness. Beatdowns, fortunately, are not the issue here.
Disappointingly, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny is just an outstretched arm of the world-clashing harmonization that Ang Lee once conjured. Netflix’s simplistic sequel lacks atmosphere and excitement, going overboard on old-school antiquities instead. Fighting styles are relics of forgotten realms, as characters are killed without little to no discernible investment. It’s a bit of care-free fan servicing that underplays exciting new additions (four mercs with cool-as-hell aliases) in favor of a glowing green sword and Yu Shu Lien’s familiar tie. Woo-Ping Yuen’s latest is less a martial arts masterpiece, and more a collection of footage that might make Steve Oedekerk’s Kung Pow! sequel.
With filmmakers like Gareth Evans and Stephen Chow, who are forwarding the martial arts genre in new, brutal, and innovative ways, a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny feels like a dusty old relative. Senile in its constant reminders of an insanely straight-forward plot (drink every time “protecting the sword” is mentioned) and outdated in style.
Yet, where classics have stood the test of time, John Fusco’s script side-steps ingenuity for a contained, more one-note tale of fist-throwing treachery. Diehard Crouching Tiger fans will noticed a more glossy, set-piece oriented feeling from Yu Shu Lien’s first meadowy carriage ride, complete with heat-seeking foot soldiers flying lazily into scene. If a franchise’s dignity falls in the forest, will Ang Lee hear it?
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny is a rickety husk of Ang Lee’s once vibrant vision, aging horribly over the years. There are bursts of poetic punchitizing, but Woo-Ping Yuen’s sequel is marred by an exhausting, English-speaking Easternization that homogenizes far too much overseas character. These aren’t our local fables, yet they’re told through a very monochromatic voice as to usher in a recognizable reincarnation versus a deserving second-coming.
Even with tremendous warrior nicknames (THUNDER FIST!!!!!) and some reusable drunken quotes (“A woman who can holder her wine is a woman a man will want to hold.”), this easy-breezy “Dance of Death” just doesn’t pack the punch of Ang Lee’s original. It’s not the worst tiptoeing tussle, but certainly nothing comparable to the highest-grossing foreign-language film of all time.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is back after over a decade, but shows its age in this staler, more weightless martial arts meh-travaganza.