Directed by the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen from a screenplay by The Forbidden Kingdom scribe John Fusco, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a epic return to the world of the original film directed by Ang Lee way back in 2000. Before looking at the film and its plot and players, it has to be said that there is literally beauty in each and every frame of this “Western” Asian drama.
Yuen and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel manage to make this second journey into Qing China look beyond sumptuous, as each set piece and scene almost bleeds with enough colour to drown the viewer, yet, does not distract from the story or action. The use of light and careful melding of CG into each frame allows this offering to feel magical and almost Shakespearean.
The casting of Donnie Yen, to play opposite the iconic Michelle Yeoh is almost serendipitous as it is almost pre-ordained. What with Yen recently killing it in the Ip Man trilogy. Not that Yen is not already well known as a sensation in Hong Kong as an action star and stunt performer, but the timing is fortuitous to say the least.
Yeoh reprises her role as Yu Shu Lien, who survived the first film along with Sir Te, who is played by a different actor this time around. New arrivals, in terms of actors portraying Chinese martial arts heroes are truly global. Yen plays Silent Wolf, a man thought to have been killed by Lee’s character.
The plot entails protecting the “sword of destiny” as whoever wields the blade is un-defeatable. Dai wants the sword and Lien, along with her former love Silent Wolf, fight to keep it out of Hades’ hands.
Harry Shum Jr. (who plays a rather larger than life magician in The Shadowhunters on Freeform) plays TieFang a chap playing on the wrong team at the start of the film. Said team is run by Hades Dai (played by Jason Scott Lee) who makes a pretty impressive villain despite not having too much screen time till the very end of the film. Australian actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo makes her debut as Snow Vase, the female warrior who shares a complex history with TieFang.
Also from “across the big pond” is American Actress JuJu Chan, who is not only a real-life martial arts master but a performer who has been called the new Michelle Yeoh and is also compared to Bruce Lee, who plays Silver Dart Shi.
The wirework is spot on and the fight scenes choreographed with style, grace and, in the tavern fight scene, comedic overtones. Silent Wolf goes to a tavern to place an ad for soldiers to join his army. After a group of thug-like mercenaries try to force Yen’s character to take them on, the five heroes who do join Silent Wolf step in.
Each hero states their name and where they are best known. After each specialist finishes the last “Turtle Ma” gives his name and says that he is well-known, “in this tavern.” The fight itself is beautifully set up to be breathtaking and funny. Even the tavern’s female proprietor takes part in the battle.
On the opposite end of the action scale, the battle between TieFang, Silent Wolf and Iron Crow (Roger Yuan) on the frozen lake is balletic in scope and presentation. The presentation is a perfect blend of ice skating and martial arts as never seen before. It is, much like the rest of the film’s battles; beautiful and breathtaking.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny has elements that feel distinctly like an American western. There is even a touch of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (which was a homage of sorts to the westerns of John Ford) apparent in certain scenes. Whether this is down to the screenplay or Woo-Ping Yuen knowing how to appeal to western audiences is unclear.
The film was made to appeal outside the usual Hong Kong cinematic demographic. The Netflix film was released simultaneously on the streaming website and in cinemas. There are versions in English and in Cantonese, according to the streaming site. Rather interestingly, if one watches the “Cantonese” version it is apparent that this has been dubbed, just like the English version.
Regardless of which version one watches, the film delivers in entertainment, action, romance and the spirit of fighting and dying for honor and loyalty.
This is a real 5 star film that is epic in scope and presentation. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny presents a fantasy version of martial arts that feels real yet magical. Just the fight sequences alone make this well worth watching.