Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny Review
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It’s fair to say that few foreign films made quite the impact on this continent that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did back in 2000. A lavish martial arts epic starring Hong Kong action vets Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh and directed by art house favorite Ang Lee, the film’s surprising success opened the door to a wave of Asian cinema that never quite materialized. A decade and a half later, a proper sequel has arrived to recapture that glory, and it only serves as a reminder of how special the original really was.

Debuting on Netflix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny returns to the world of Du Lu Wang’s Crane-Iron series of novels, where martial arts masters wander the countryside righting wrongs and seeking to determine whose skills are greatest. Having lost the love of her life, renowned hero Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh) once again encounters the legendary sword called the Green Destiny. Before long, she’s caught up in a web of intrigue, including the ruthless warlord Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), a pair of young warriors—Wei Fang (Harry Shum, Jr.) and Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo)—who are seeking a new life in different ways, and her presumed-dead former fiancée, Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen).

I’ll skip describing much more of the plot because if you’ve seen the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then this film won’t offer many surprises. Even though the wire-fu choreography and lush cinematography are clearly up to its predecessor’s standards, it fails to search out its own identity, and some fine performances get lost in too-familiar characters. There are so many repeated plot points, character types, and fight setups that it begins to feel less like a sequel than an echo.

In some cases, that familiarity is actually a plus. Michelle Yeoh slips right back into the role as Yu Shu Lien, perfectly embodying the character’s graceful reserve and refined fighting style. And while it’s hard not to miss Chow Yun-Fat’s doomed Li Mu Bai, Yeoh and fellow wuxia film vet Yen show such great chemistry together that it partially makes up for it. If the younger actors fail to leave as strong of an impression, it’s partly because it’s just such a pleasure to watch two pros work together.

As you might expect, the film finds its strongest moments in the fight scenes. Yuen Woo-Ping, who choreographed the action on the first film, steps in for Ang Lee as director here. His fight scenes remain as thrilling as they’ve ever been, but they lack the contemplative touch that made his collaboration with Lee shine. The fact that so many are repeated setups—a raucous tavern fight, a nighttime rooftop brawl—keeps pulling the viewer back toward the superior original.

Had Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny come out on its own, it would have been a perfectly serviceable Chinese martial arts epic. If, by some chance of fate, you’re a fan of the genre and you’ve never seen the first film, you may get more mileage out of it. For the rest of us, though, it’s a reminder of a masterpiece that still hasn’t met its equal.

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