Review: CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY Should Have Stayed Hidden
In regards to this Netflix original, setting the bar impossibly low barely helped tolerate the arduous two-part viewing experience of this martial-arts mess. Sullying Ang Lee’s beautiful vision of the vintage source material, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is neither a coherent tale nor a particularly exciting one.
Yuen Woo-Ping (True Legend and other better wuxia films) directs and the action sequences are the only real stand-out in a sea of mediocrity. From the placid acting, to the hokey set design, basically nothing works. The screenplay by John Fusco (The Forbidden Kingdom) is the biggest culprit; a turgid nonsensical slapdash offense of contemporary narrative that is not even ‘so bad its good’.
Shockingly, the film was made in English; turn the subtitles on and cringe when you read ‘shouts in foreign language’ in regards to the Mandarin-speaking background extras. This is a massive shame, because if a different, less serious director was at the helm, the cheesy effects, artificial sets and costumes, awful lines of dialogue and slapstick could have played like a fun but throwaway homage to the martial arts films of yore.
The plot, which is lost in the first half-hour, revolves around the only returning actor from the previous film, Michelle Yeoh, on true autopilot mode as Yu Shu Lien. Here she guards the legendary sword still, protecting it from those who would seek its power. She entrusts it to, and trains Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who strikes a fickle romantic rapport with Tiefang, a tricky thief she captures and conveniently cages in the courtyard where she trains.
There is talent in the cast here, but it is lost in uninspired and contrived circumstances and the actors lose focus as a result. Bordizzo as Snow Vase eventually just speaks with her Australian accent, others with their British and American accent, and it is as awkward as it sounds. Donnie Yen is also in this film; he plays Silent Wolf and smirks his way through some decent fight scenes, but his presence is largely absent. Characters, fellowships and villains all conveniently meet and fight in the kingdom where the green sword lay. Some try to steal, others take it by force, but the pacing is so off-putting and bizarre that it is hard to care about what is occurring, and when.
Partly shot in New Zealand and a heavily CGI’d Beijing, the film seems inspired by the locations. Yu Shu Lien starts the film by riding through territory Hobbits have certainly trod. A Lord of the Rings scenario sees a band of adventurers fight and make their way to the kingdom, punctuated by lazy characters with one-note sensibilities who seem to laugh unconvincingly together a lot. In fact, one scene that has them meet Snow Vase is literally just two minutes of stilted laughter at the drinking table.
It is quite shocking how bad this film really is, and despite some subpar martial arts choreography (Ping could do much better) this film is drained of Ang Lee’s deft hand and poetic, kinetic beauty and passion that originally elevated Wang Dulu’s source material. Do not watch it on Netflix; instead watch the original again that they have so graciously provided.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is out now on Netflix.