When the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon hit cinemas in the year 2000, nobody could’ve predicted the global phenomenon that Ang Lee would soon have on his hands. Sure enough, Lee had been making quite a reputation for himself in Hollywood and the cast he had assembled for this film was a veritable Who’s Who of Asian Cinema, but to think at that time that any movie that was acted out in an entirely different language to what a vast majority of western audiences were used to would ever hit box office gold was, at best, a pipe dream. After all, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, who goes to the cinema to read? Even your erstwhile reviewer expected it to find its market with those of us that loved Wuxia films and then to find itself straight to DVD within a few months.
Oh, how wrong I was. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon blew up in a way that hadn’t truly been seen since Enter The Dragon. It took off like Chow Yun Fat in flight. It was nominated in 10 categories at the 73rd Academy Awards, taking home four gold statues, and would eventually make $213.5 million dollars box office worldwide, on a $17 million budget. It was the little movie that could and having been such a huge success, talk of a sequel soon started to fill up forums and the wild west that was the 2000s internet almost as soon as it was released. But, strangely, nothing seemed to happen.
Then in 2013, it was announced that there would, indeed, be a sequel called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny and people were more than a tad intrigued. How would they continue this story? Would the main cast return, at least those who had survived the first outing? Would Ang Lee be back at the helm? It was a mouth-watering prospect, to say the least. It took three long years for it to finally hit our screens, courtesy of Netflix, and people were far from happy with the finished result. It was slaughtered in the press and took quite a kicking from those ever so reliable and not at all biased reviewers that stalk Rotten Tomatoes in search of new films to get angry at, but was this beating fair? Is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny the utter turkey that folks would have you believe or is it worth the 1hr 45 minutes of your life that you have to give over to it? Well, dear reader, that’s what we’re about to find out and it goes without saying, I might not agree with what other people think.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
One of the main complaints about the sequel was that Ang Lee had shown zero interest in taking the director’s chair again and that this job had been passed onto Yuen Woo-Ping, who had handled the action choreography for the first film. In fact, Zhang Ziyi—who I fell madly in love with after the first movie was released—even stated that she had no desire to return in Lee wasn’t running the show. This automatically gets a down from me, but that’s just for selfish reasons as I can’t have enough Zhang Ziyi in my life, yet all joking aside, Woo-Ping does a bang-up job. He’s remained true to the feel of the original. It is beautifully shot, with sweeping landscapes and gorgeous colors so eye-popping that they take your breath away. I’ll admit that it isn’t as awe-inspiring as the 2000 version, but then again, nothing could be as that did it first, but that doesn’t in any way lessen the effect. I also prefer the action sequences here as well. Woo-Ping is allowed to show his chops in helping choreograph some amazing and entertaining fights scenes, but then what would you expect from a man who has the likes of Drunken Master, Fist Of Legend, and both Kill Bill movies under his belt?
The tavern brawl is my favorite of all these as it’s the first time you get to see Donnie Yen in action. Yes, it’s obviously him that saves Michelle Yeoh from Hades Dai men at the beginning of the movie so, technically, it’s his second dust-up, but this is where Yen does what Yen does best and kicks the living hell out of a bunch of ne’er-do-wells stupid enough to cross him. And he doesn’t even need to get up to do it. From his stool, he dispatches six attackers without even breaking a sweat, before he, along with the other four members of the Iron Way and one very pissed-off landlady, beat the remaining villains like red-headed stepchildren. It’s a great fight that has found its way into my all-time favorite list, but it isn’t the only one. A lot of people have complained that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny has “…purely functional action sequences”, but either these people were watching an entirely different movie to me or they are, as I suspect, idiots. There is nothing “…purely functional” about any of the battles on show and each one is a beautiful ballet of total violence that further heightens the drama when they cause one or more of the main characters to lose their lives.
Another criticism I’ve found unfair is that the cast is nowhere near as good as the original film. Now, I get that a lot of people didn’t like the fact that the movie was shot in English and used a majority of English-speaking actors for the roles, but that should not in any way take away from some stellar performances. As I’ve just stated, Donnie Yen is Donnie Yen, brilliant as always, and Michelle Yeoh is a goddess who could spend two hours reading a shopping list and I’d be entertained, but the rest of the cast more than hold their own while working with these giants of Asian Cinema. Harry Shum Jr. is convincing as the conflicted bad guy with a past he knows little about, Veronica Ngo is pure hatred as the vengeance-driven Mantis, and Darryl Quon had me grinning from ear to ear as the drunken and funny Turtle Ma, but the breakout performance has to go to Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Snow Vase. It amazes me that this was her first gig as she holds your attention every single time she’s onscreen. She is an utter badass who took the time to train in Wudang sword fighting for this role and she more than holds her own when she is paired up with Michelle Yeoh, in both acting and fighting capability, which is no easy feat.
I’m not completely blind, however, and will admit that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny has a few faults. The plot is a tad convoluted at times and is solely based on the idea that there is a sword, the Sword of Destiny, that gives whoever wields it an invincibility cheat code as those who have it have never fallen in battle, while there are character arcs that either never get started or we seem to drop into halfway through as if they were left on the cutting room floor. For example, Mantis mentions that she used to believe in the Iron Way but they caused the death of loved ones and that’s why she now hates them…and that’s it. I mean, come on, a little character development here would’ve been nice. You can’t drop that kind of story on fans, a story that was easily worth exploring in far more detail, and then say “…but we’re not going to tell you why”. That’s just mean. Also, no matter how hard both Jason Scott Lee and Eugenia Yuan work with their characters, Hades Dai and Blind Enchantress respectively, they are fighting a losing battle with these by the numbers bad guys.
Yet this should not take away from the fact that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny is a bloody good film. No, it’s not as good as the original, but that’s only because that one came first and anything following in its footsteps was always going to be judged harshly, but if you’re looking for an action-packed, beautifully shot, well-acted movie, that may have a few wrinkles here and there, then Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny is well worth 1hr and 45 minutes of anyone’s time.