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Review – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

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Whereas the monumentally successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001) was a drama primarily and wuxia (it’s pronounced wu-shia, not leviosaaa) spectacle additionally, the Netflix-distributed sequel,Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, works vice versa. This is not necessarily a derogatory statement, but simply a film by Master Yuen Woo-Ping – the accomplished action director and choreographer of Drunken Master (1978), Once Upon a Time in China (19991), The Matrix (1999), The Grandmaster (2015), and every other glorious fight scene you can ever remember – rather than Ang Lee. Lee is an accomplished dramatist who excels in multifaceted female characters and the consideration of tension between paternalism/individualism, tradition/modernism. The first film reflected this; it was essentially a proto-feminist tale about a woman raging against the patriarchal machine. Woo-Ping’s tendency is somewhat different and more simple – make the female characters bad-ass, rather than complex, and communicate a more basic message concerning the need for courage and honour. Or some such.

As such, the inevitable comparisons to the original is somewhat unfair, the film’s have separate tendencies. It should probably be stated that the sequel is inferior and get that out of the way. However, the film does courageously invite comparisons to the original classic, not only in its brand name, but in the repeated plot, themes and visual cues. It feels less of an homage and more of a re-hash. Michelle Yeoh returns as Yu Shu Lien, and new characters, rather than represent something fresh, are simply inserted into the vacant spots of the previous actors. Instead of Ziyi Zhang is Natasha Liu Bordizzo, playing a similarly reckless and impatient warrior, who unfortunately lacks in her predecessor’s developed motivations. Satisfying the vacant boots left by Chow Yun-Fat is never easy, but Donnie Yen is an inspired, natural choice, lending his superior physical artistry as the new male warrior figure and love interest ofMichelle Yeoh (they would be a superior couple, let’s face it).

An unwelcomed addition to the franchise is the motley crew that accompanies Yen’s Silent Wolf. Clearly inspired by Lady Sith and the Warriors 3 from the Thor films, or that recent Hercules film with Dwayne Johnson, this group is filled with warriors drunken and noble who go by the names: Flying Blade, Silver Dart, Thunderfist and Turtle Ma. Jet Li’s casually racist name in The Expendables – Ying Yang – isn’t looking too stupid right now. This is an element of the most egregious part of this film – its misjudged westernisation. All the cast deliver dialogue in English, and the option of Cantonese is a dubbed one. One cannot help but feel the imprudent influence, yet again, of The Weinstein Company who have a track record of butchering Asian film properties in order to make it ‘marketable’ to the West. It’s just that their idea of ‘marketable’ reduces us western simpletons down to brainless pod-people who can’t read subtitles nor appreciate cultural nuance.

Coming straight off watching the original and then logging onto Netflix to view CTHD: SOD, the notable ‘developments’, or differences, in the tendency of cinema over the last 15 years isn’t looking too positive. Instead of the incredible Chinese landscapes captured on celluloid in the first film’s cinematography, we are given, a la The Hobbit, computer generated landscapes and a bombardment of Instagram filters. The ultimate effect does not renew the magic and opulence of the original. It feels like an artificial direct-to-video extension. This is a smaller film in both budget and vision, despite the films over-stylised attempts to prove otherwise,

But do not let me diminish too harshly; this is an incredibly enjoyable wuxia film, and it cannot be understated when it comes to creativity in the action scenes. The enchanting Michelle Yeoh continues to display her ballerina elegance while simultaneously kicking ass, and Yen’s unequalled ability to turn bad guys into Donnie meat is exploited to the genre fans glee. The highlight fight scene occurs on a frozen lake; it is a piece of cinema that completely destroys the barrier between violent combat and harmonious dancing. Although the plot, concerning some tenuously evil potato-head Warlord villain and his desire to retain the titular sword, is more paralytic than a dim-mak pressure point attack and as thin as the said blade, there is plenty of incredible action to jolt you back to life. Let it be said: as a spectacle, there is no equal.

3.5-out-of-5

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