Ang Lee’s 2000 masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will doubtless be remembered as one of the best films of the century. Its stunning artistic sense, awe-inspiring fight sequences, and beautiful score are matched only by its deeply heartfelt romantic storyline and perfectly realized characters. It revitalized Chinese cinema in foreign markets and changed the way Americans thought about martial arts movies. It’s an all-around flawless piece of filmmaking. Whether you agree with anything I said in the last few sentences is immaterial, but I think we can all concur on one thing regarding Crouching Tiger: it did not need a sequel sixteen years later.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)
The Plot: It’s funny, but lately I’ve noticed that I have a really hard time writing plot summaries for bad movies. Some part of my being protests against the process of recalling a stupid storyline. Well, Sword of Destiny concerns a… sword of destiny, the Green Destiny (from the first movie), and an evil ninja warlord who wants to steal it so he can rule the whole world or something, and one of the characters is a witch or a vampire or something weird.
So. Crouching Tiger 2: Crouch Harder does feature the original film’s star Michelle Yeoh, and it reuses some of Tan Dun and Yo-Yo Ma’s soundtrack, and it has at least one additional Donny Yen, which certainly can’t hurt; but despite their best efforts, these pros can’t quite outweigh the cons, which include but are not limited to the production values of an early 2000s BBC special and a story that reads like a Scorpion King sequel, and once you take those into account, it’s difficult to call Sword of Destiny a successful film.
The cons strike with such unreserved, unapologetic ferocity that they not only negate the pros, but manage to render them cons. Michelle Yeoh just looks as though she’s made a huge mistake throughout the entire runtime, and to be fair to her, she absolutely has made a huge mistake. Was she desperate for money? Desperate to relive the glory days of the original movie’s success? Or did she genuinely think this would be a good movie? Man, pick an option; they’re all sad.
The fight scenes aren’t even very good. They overdo Crouching Tiger’s magical physics-bending until they reach Matrix levels of unbelievable goofiness. The choreography is lazy, the editing is lazy, the numerous sequences are repetitive and boring, and worst of all, they exist for their own sake. I think… one of them, maybe two were justified by the story. They go out of their way to insert fight after fight with such shameless laziness that at one point it’s winter. What? Well, they have a fight at a temple and it seems pretty warm, and then there’s a short little chase through the woods, and then they have another fight on a frozen lake, because why the hell not? The next scene it’s summer again. Come on.
You know, if they hadn’t called this a Crouching Tiger sequel, it would have still been a pretty bad movie, but my review wouldn’t have words like “tragedy” and “offensive” and “Scorpion King” wandering through it (well, maybe that last one). Alas, here we are, left with our offensive tragedy. It stands as a testament to the film business, though. Many filmmakers purport that there is a constant struggle between the artistic side of movies and the industrial side. It is an art form, but it’s also a multi-billion dollar global business, so there’s bound to be a fair amount of contention. The best (or at least most successful) movies find a balance between these two facts of life. Whether they lean more heavily on one side of the spectrum or the other doesn’t really matter, as long as they have a little bit of both and exist comfortably within that artistic industry.
Sword of Destiny has no art in it. It has taken good art and has commodified it, branded it, and packaged it for mass consumption. Its use of the first film’s somber, contemplative main theme probably bugged me the most of all its offenses. Every time they play that music it just reminds you of the full extent of the travesty they’re committing.
I probably shouldn’t be able to compare anything with the words Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in its title to Zoolander 2, but somehow Netflix found a way to make that happen. Sometimes crappy people make crappy movies, and that’s the sad, unavoidable truth. The best the rest of us can do is try not to watch them, but we all slip up from time to time. Make no mistake, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a colossal waste of time. If any part of you held even the lightest curiosity for this pile of trash, do yourself a favor and dispel that urge; try to save your valuable viewership for something more worthwhile and less insulting.
But hey. I know what might cheer us up: