It’s been 16 years since Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released to significant critical acclaim. Now exclusive to Netflix and on a limited IMAX run, a sequel to the hit martial arts film has been released, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, based on the fifth novel in Wang Dulu’s Crane-Iron series. The sequel is directed by Woo-Ping Yuen, with a returning Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien, joining her this time round are Donnie Yen as Silent Wolf, Harry Shum Jnr as Wei Fang. and Jason Scott Lee as the big bad awesome sounding Hades Dai.
After spending years in solitude Yu Shu Lien travels to Peking where a legendary sword known as Green Destiny is being protected. Lien travels to the house in which it resides, despite being attacked on the way, and stays for the night concerned for it’s safety. Elsewhere the powerful warlord of the West Lotus Hades Dai learns of the swords discovery, and that his current weapon is no match for it’s power. Determined to claim the sword and rule the martial world, Dai sends young warrior Wei Fang to steal it in the night. After his theft is spurned by warriors residing within the walls of Peking, Fang is kept prisoner and warriors are recruited to protect the sword. Silent Wolf, a figure from the past of both Lien and Dai once thought dead, heeds the call and brings with him four more skilled warriors. With further attempts to claim Green Destiny from Dai, Lien and Silent Wolf must unite to bring down the warlord once and for all, and bring peace to the martial world.
In a strange move the sequel is shot in English, not the traditional Chinese Mandarin, and as a result some of the acting is more rigid then it needed to be. Making matters worse is the choppy flow of the story, where set pieces are placed after one another with little time for character or story development. With the running time clocking in at a brisk 100 minutes, there was plenty of time unused to further character arcs and relationships. The primary focus of the story revolves around two relationships, that between Yu Shu Lien & Silent Wolf, and Wei Fang & Snow Vase. The former is sketchy story about prior interactions that yo yo’s from ‘I don’t love you’ to ‘I love you’ with nothing in between to get it there cohesively. The latter is a much more interesting story of fate, but it occurs between two people who have zero screen chemistry.
The biggest problem that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny has is that it’s the sequel to a truly outstanding film. Comparing the two simply puts the latter to shame because it’s nowhere near the refined quality of it’s predecessor. It might be a little unfair, but if your going to follow up a film of such quality using the same name and source material then you need to roll with the punches.
As there is already little to be found within the film that resembles Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, if you disregard the looming shadow of it’s predecessor and take the sequel as a separate entity (we know it’s not, but lets pretend) at the core there is a decent standalone action film to be found. It might be rushed, and you may care little about the characters, apart from Silent Wolf because we all love Donnie Yen, but there are some redemptive features. The saving graces are without a doubt some sizzling action sequences that are great to watch, especially the climatic battle at the West Lotus base as Hades Dai takes on Silent Wolf. If your looking a true to heart sequel you’ll be gravely disappointed, possibly even angry. But if you take it for what it actually is, a straight to demand martial arts action film, and remove the stigma of an Oscar winning predecessor, then it’s not actually that bad.