Even Donnie Yen can’t completely salvage this disaster.
These days, it seems like Netflix can do no wrong. Many of their shows are critically acclaimed and their recent film Beasts of No Nation also garnered a lot of positive reception and helped fuel the recent Oscars diversity controversy along with Straight Outta Compton when it received zero nominations, even outside the acting categories.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to bat a thousand in the world of pop culture and that is certainly true for Netflix as well. They’ve had their share of duds and it looks like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny will be joining their relatively small list of investments that didn’t pan out.
Making a sequel for the landmark film released nearly two decades ago was unnecessary to begin with, but people said the same thing about Mad Max: Fury Road before it went on to win a shitload of awards including a handful of Oscars.
But still, one has to wonder what the point of this whole endeavor was. I read something recently from the director of Finding Dory, the upcoming sequel to Finding Nemo, who claimed Disney/Pixar wouldn’t be making a sequel if it wasn’t going to be a genuinely excellent product. In other words, it wasn’t going to be just for the money (at least not blatantly).
You would think that type of mindset would apply to all studios and I can only assume Netflix thought this was going to end up as a solid film, even if it didn’t come close to the heights of the original, which is considered to be one of the greatest foreign language films ever and catapulted director Ang Lee into the Hollywood spotlight.
What they didn’t want is a movie that currently holds a measly sixteen percent on Rotten Tomatoes. This isn’t a bad film – it’s almost a catastrophically bad one. The problem is that it doesn’t come even close to matching what the first film had to offer and that’s a serious issue even for someone like me who hasn’t seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in years.
It is inferior in nearly every way, from the baffling decision to film mostly in New Zealand to the even more baffling decision to film this with the actors speaking English. That’s right: it isn’t Mandarin or even Cantonese. You can see for yourself when you set the audio language to Mandarin and find that the dialogue doesn’t match the actors’ lips.
The one slightly redeeming quality is the martial arts choreography which is solid thanks to Donnie Yen, who also portrays the character Silent Wolf. The fight scenes are fun, but once again, there’s just a sense of emptiness that betrays the entire thing. The first film was noted for balancing the story, emotional drama, and gorgeous martial arts.
Sword of Destiny insists on neglecting everything but the fighting, and as a result the fighting suffers as well. A lot of the movie takes place at night, and I think it’s very appropriate to say it’s symbolism for how bad this film is. I remember the original had beautiful scenes in broad daylight, but Sword of Destiny seems to insist on hiding its flaws in literal darkness.
When we actually get to see the characters under the sun, it’s still an underwhelming experience. The colors are much more mundane than the original and there’s something very monotonous and exhausting about the movie. I actually had to take a break several times because it was making me so irrationally moody.
The sad thing is we probably wouldn’t have to be so brutal about it if this movie was just an independent action film with no ties to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In fact, it really has no ties! Aside from Michelle Yeoh – who also seems like she’s just going through the motions – I couldn’t see any connection between the first film and this one.
Without high expectations, maybe this would be an easier film to enjoy. I doubt it though. It’s clear this was made without passion, and perhaps even without respect for what the first film had to offer.