MOVIE REVIEW: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny



Last summer, the chief complaints of "Jurassic World" were its lack of majesty and awe to follow the original "Jurassic Park."  One can now say the very same about the new long-distance sequel "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny."  The soulful beating heart that stirred the 2000 winner of four Academy Awards has been stifled to large degree.  The dazzling and balletic flight of fancy that we fell in love with then has been replaced by repetitive flashiness driven by a different audience.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny" is based on the fifth and final novel, "Iron Knight, Silver Vase," of wuxia author Wang Dulu's Crane Iron series.  Set 18 years after the death of the heroic Li Mu Bai (the unseen Chow Yun-Fat), her former love and fellow warrior Yu Shu Lien (a returning Michelle Yeoh) has left solitude to reemerge in the martial land of imperial China.  The era of her noble past has faded into legend and the country is now teetering between the control of warring factions.  The most powerful of them, West Lotus, is lead by the despotic Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), who seeks to acquire the legendary power of Li Mu Bai's sword, the jade-adorned Green Destiny.

Two young West Lotus warriors intersect and fail trying to steal the Green Destiny.  The first, Snow Vase (newcomer Natasha Liu Bordizzo), changes allegiances to Yu Shu Lien as a more suitable teacher.  The other, Wei-Fang ("Glee" and "Step Up" star Harry Shum, Jr.), is the one apprehended and carries a unspoken attachment to a history he does not know.  Speaking of the past, Silent Wolf (action star and top-billed Donnie Yen), a masked swordsman and former lost love of Yu's, comes to aid the cause.  The old flames and new youth come together to protect and defend the greater good against the rising dark forces of Hades Dai.

You cannot watch "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny" without feeling that something deeper elegance is lacking.  Straight action fans who want to skip all of the longing and portending of the first time will love this sequel, directed by famed fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping.  He veers towards his signature action with a large drop in engaging connection.  The sensational action scenes are impressive, yet the satisfaction will be short-lived and the greater point will be missed.

Allusions to Tan Dun and Yo-Yo Ma's unforgettable Oscar-winning cello cues whisper through a Shigeru Umebayashi musical score dominated now by more fighting drums than anything else.  The gauzy palette looks smaller and cheapened.  The one-dimensional characters speak in full English (in favoritism to its preferred Western audience) and feel driven with less purpose.  Even with the outstanding slow-motion wire-work fight scenes spun by improved technology, the whole pace of this film feels over-accelerated from the introspective potency of "Crouching, Tiger Hidden Dragon."  

There's a better than good chance that original director Ang Lee is that missing ingredient.  His artful eye and understated approach crafted a core of passion that complemented the wuxia martial arts action, not the other way around.  His film held its storytelling sense of legend dear.  The thin sequel cannot compose an equal effort fitting of that legend.  What was a carefully built emotional epic before now feels like a chain of staged set pieces.  

LESSON #1: OVERCOMING TRAGEDY-- Wuxia stories are often populated by characters emerging from and correcting personal tragedies.  Each hero in this sequel has a poignant loss (or several) in their history that presented hardships and challenges they grew from to mold the nobility and selflessness they seek.  

LESSON #2: THE "IRON WAY" WITHIN WUXIA PHILOSOPHY-- Yu Shu Lien speaks often of the "Iron Way" of warriors.  They are, more or less, bound to the fate of where their sword leads them, whether that is an honorable path or an inglorious one.  In this realm, swordsman are remembered longer than philosophers because of that importance and impact.  

LESSON #3: QUALITIES WORTH FIGHTING FOR-- Each of the protagonists represent different levels of code, duty, and honor and manifest in their actions of courage, justice, truthfulness, benevolence, loyalty, individualism, courage, and a disregard for wealth and glory.  Those traits conquer the evils that oppose them and are worth personal devotion and, if necessary, sacrifice.