Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny (2016)

Directed by
Far from worthy of sharing a name with Ang Lee's film
Reviewed by Simon on 2016-03-01

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a watershed moment in martial arts cinema - a breakout hit that introduced audiences all over the world to the wu xia genre, probably foreign cinema in general in many cases. Ang Lee's art film sensibilities combined with Yuen Wo-Ping's martial arts choregraphy, Peter Pau's cinematography and the production values afforded by international investment to create a genuine cultural event.

Long-standing fans of the genre might have grumbled that it was deeply indebted to the cinematic tradition to which it was an homage, but it managed to break through cultural barriers and reach a much wider audience than the films that inspired it could ever have hoped to do. Many of us dared to imagine that it was the beginning of a new boom in martial arts films, with international recognition of the genre we adored... sadly the vast majority of attempts to capitalise on CTHD's success stumbled or misfired, and eventually the genre probably became more marginalised than ever.

15 years later it was a surprise to learn that a second film was being produced - possibly because Donnie Yen had finally learnt that there was a martial arts film he wasn't in. Michelle Yeoh was to reprise her role from the original, whilst Yuen Wo-Ping was to move from Action Director to full-fledged director... exciting times! I promptly avoided learning anything else about the film whatsoever, and was then positively shocked to discover it appearing on Netflix mere weeks after it was released in China.

"Available in both English and Chinese", Netflix was keen to point out. Obviously dubbing is the work of the devil, so I started the film and promptly switched to the Mandarin audio track with English subtitles. A few minutes in it was clear that the Mandarin track was not recorded in sync sound, and key cast members appeared to have been dubbed. Several more minutes in and it was becoming apparent that nobody was actually speaking Mandarin - the voices didn't fit the faces, the expressions didn't fit the intonation. There was no option for a Cantonese audio track, and the mismatch between the physical acting and the voice acting seemed worse than a Mandarin dub of Cantonese audio could explain, so with trepidation I switched back to the English audio track... yep, a perfect fit. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY was filmed in English!

Coupled with the prominence of The Weinstein Company's name in the credits, the decision to shoot the film in English was quite worrisome. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON was the film that shattered (briefly) the long-standing dogma that Western (well, American) audiences wouldn't watch a subtitled film, so the fact that they still felt the need to shoot a sequel in English seemed like a final nail in the coffin for "international" cinema ever truly becoming mainstream (that Hollywood films get to be mainstream all over the world whilst in the UK even British films tend to end up in the "World Cinema" bucket is a perennial bugbear). Or perhaps it is just further proof - as if it were needed - that Harvey Weinstein is an imbecile with a grossly over-inflated ego that Asian film-makers really should have learnt to run away from... as far as possible.

So, what about the film... other than it being in an unexpected language? Well, it's basically CROUCHING TIGER with all the depth and finesse crushed out of it... essentially the same story, but filtered through the pen of a western writer and western producer. The dialogue is a thin gruel of overcooked orientalism, with the rich characters and themes of the original reduced to paper-thin motives, with internal thoughts and feelings bluntly delivered through exchanges of banal platitudes and forced exposition. Pretty much all the motifs of the original are hauled out and waved about at one point or another in the film, but are sequentially fumbled and dropped thanks to the inarticulate dialogue and one-dimensional direction - no disrespect to Yuen Wo-Ping, you're still a great ACTION director.

And action there is - probably a higher quota of fight scenes than in the original. Several of them are very reminiscent of scenes from the original, as if operating under the assumption that they were all we really noticed about the first film and all we wanted to see in a sequel. Whilst each fight in the original served a purpose in developing and revealing the characters, though, we can't really expect such attention to detail here. Still, they're pretty good fight scenes - I guess that's something. Would have been better without the surprisingly cheap looking CGI that occasionally infects them, but that's the 21st century for you.

Oh, and Cheng Pei-Pei's daughter Eugenia Yuan plays a witch.

That's about as much as I can find to be positive about in the film, unfortunately. It's a shame, because I was hoping that it was going to be something significant - that Netflix was finally going to become the place for world cinema to flourish, the realisation at last of the potential for VOD to provide global distribution for international cinema. It turns out to be almost the exact opposite ... an essentially American film that is a step backwards for the concept of an international film market, sullying the name that was once the figurehead for it.