Review: “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” – Why?

Written by Matt Butler March 04, 2016

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I’m not sure exactly what the motivation was for making this movie. Was there really any high demand for a sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? And if so, why did it take sixteen years? I know that’s not how movies work, we don’t get something just because we ask for it. But my question is: Did anyone ask for this to be made? My guess is no, and from the looks of Sword of Destiny, I don’t think anyone involved wanted to make it either.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is the continuation, I guess, of Ang Lee’s martial arts masterpiece. After years of solitude, Yu Shu Lien (played by the always intrepid Michelle Yeoh) is forced to come out of retirement -always a good sign for your sequel…- when a ruthless warlord seeks the Green Destiny, the sacred sword from the first movie.


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With a title like ‘Sword of Destiny’, you might feel a Lord of the Rings vibe going on here. While Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny certainly takes inspiration from LOTR -I use inspiration very lightly- there’s nothing mythical or crucial about the Green Destiny, aside from that everyone wants it. I’d understand if it was something insidious, maybe possessed by demons that can overpower whoever wields it -hey, if you’re going to go LOTR, go all the way- but really, it’s just an old sword.  Yes, the sword was an important part of the first movie, but it was more an extension of abilities. The Green Destiny itself was only valuable on a historic level, it was a means to an end, but now this over-glorified piece of metal is the MacGuffin of the entire film. Haven’t we learned this lesson before? It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.

“We don’t hold this sword, this sword holds us.”

Either way, it seems this movie didn’t have the tools or the knowledge to use them. Despite the glorious establishing shots (dare I say, wallpaper-worthy) you can tell that this movie was shot on a tv budget. Worse yet, it tries to compensate with saturated colour-grading that makes the frame brash and chintzy. It also tries to one-up the action of the first by exaggerating the blows with louder punches, whooshes, and crunching of bones. I know SFX are crucial to creating theatrical action, but there’s a time and place for everything. These showy SFX would have suited perfectly for more unprincipled characters like Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and Wei-Fang (Harry Shum, Jr.) to establish them as aggressive and high-strung, which they are. The scene where the two are fighting for the sword in the middle of the night inside a room surrounded by vases is actually my favourite scene in Sword of Destiny. It’s like a bull in a china shop, and it shows these two still have a ways to go before they can achieve graceful mastery of wuxia. But since every character in Sword of Destiny fights this way, this becomes meaningless, and the excitement of the fight dies down way too quickly. 

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“I would rather face an army by your side than to live another day without you.”

Then again, these shouldn’t really be fights to begin with. In the first film, it was more like an elaborate dance. It was graceful, majestic, nimble. This allowed any moments of bloodshed to really sink in deep. It also helped that the story was focused on a small group of characters. We got to know these characters (maybe not their names, but come on, give me a break…) and when they died, it actually meant something. Simply put, with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, less is more.

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Sword of Destiny, on the other hand, packs the story with characters, each with their own traumatic backstory and subplot that you care nothing about. The action is so overblown in every scene that you don’t know what’s important anymore. I want to stress that exaggerated action in and of itself isn’t the problem. Again, it’s how you use the tool that counts, but it seems like the people behind this movie weren’t trying to make a sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon at all. This movie takes its style from The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and Kill Bill, but rarely Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

“A predictable attack has a predictable outcome.”

A lot of this wouldn’t matter though if the cast looked at all like they gave a crap. Everyone on screen just looks like they want to go home, and I would too, but thankfully I can just close my browser, thanks Netflix.

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I had very little motivation to watch Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, so at the very least, I’m glad this sequel came about for me to finally give the first a look. Now, comparing the two, I have come to truly respect Ang Lee’s work for making a martial arts movie that went far beyond fancy choreography. Since both films are currently on Netflix, I strongly urge you to check out the first, maybe even the second, if only to understand more closely what went so wrong the second time but oh-so-right the first.

My Rating: 3/10  

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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