Netflix Review: ‘CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY’ Slices But Doesn’t Cut Deep


Jared McMillan // Film Critic

Director: Woo-Ping Yuen
Cast: Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh and Harry Shum Jr.

When Netflix announced last year that it was making a sequel to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, there were some excited for a new spectacle surrounding the mysterious Green Destiny, while everyone else had reservations and a question of “Why is this happening?”

The answer of “why” lies in the current sequel boon that Hollywood has become enamored with over the past several years. If it made substantial box-office or has a cult following (which the original Ang Lee-directed film does), the industry will be sure to go to that well whether you want it to or not. The most the fans of the original material can do is pray that the essence doesn’t get lost in the cash grab. While CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY tries to maintain that essence, the movie makes obvious choices to supersede it in order to reach a wider audience.

At first, the narrative focuses on Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), who survives an early attack to learn that the West Lotus, led by Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), is after the Green Destiny. She must protect it as she did in the original CTHD, while bringing back a sense of bereavement over her beloved Mu Bai. It’s a familiar plot point that precedes more similarity to CTHD: an unspoken love that cannot be because of honor, a stubborn young woman that becomes an apprentice, and several assassins that come into play in search of the famed sword.

The use of similar storylines can be good in bringing back the audience into the CTHD world, as well as any new audience members. However, where SWORD OF DESTINY strays from the original film is that it is more overt in the interaction between characters. CTHD excelled at quiet strength and allowing its audience to infer on the unsaid, whereas the sequel needs to spell everything out.

Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

For instance, when her dead fiancée Meng Sizhao (Donnie Yen) returns to help protect the sword, the moment has a nice shock to it. We, along with Shu Lien, knew that he was dead, and his death led to her and Mu Bai’s love go unrequited out of respect. After the surprising reveal, they go into detail explaining this exact sentiment, and then beats us over the head with it after every interaction.
Also, for a story trying to adhere to the CTHD mythology, it makes a terrible move in filming in English instead of native dialect. It’s not terrible in trying to gain a bigger audience (the original was released in both Chinese and dubbed English), but instances of broken English lead to obvious dubbing and jars the viewer from the narrative world. It further injures the tone of the movie, which is already disjointed by transitioning between serious beauty and jovial banter.

While these are some glaring negatives that damage the overall product, it is still beautifully shot. Directed by famed action choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping, the majesty of their world still meshes well with the fantastic action. Also, Michelle Yeoh brings the same grace that anchored her performance in the original film, and Donnie Yen does well to maintain a new presence for the audience. The action also involves several different styles to keep the viewer on their toes and distinguish each character.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY is very entertaining when it focuses on its strengths. However, they get outweighed by a jigsaw story that’s missing a few pieces; it’s beautiful, but messy and lacking. There could have been more time in its production to help craft a worthy follow-up, but it just winds up feeling as cashed nostalgia instead of something essential.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY is available to stream on Netflix today.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.