It has been over 16 years since the release of Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the martial arts film that became a surprise hit at the box-office and earned many award nominations around the world. Given its success it is surprising it took this long for there to be a sequel, and since we live in the age of streaming that sequel has gone straight to Netflix. That is somewhat disappointing because although the story of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” is derivative, the effects and fight sequences are beautiful and would have been more at home on the big screen.
If you have not seen the first film or haven’t had the chance to revisit it at any time over the last decade and a half, no matter because save for one actress none of the original cast return and Yuen Woo-ping steps into the director’s chair. Michelle Yeoh is back as Yu Shu Lien, a legendary warrior who thinks she has put violence behind her, but wouldn’t you know it, just when she thought she was out they pull her back in. While attending a funeral she learns an evil warlord (Jason Scott Lee) wants to get his hand on a legendary sword she has been sworn to protect. That warlord’s name: Hades Dai. How is that for a name for a villain?
Lien and the sword are in an imperial building surrounded by guards, but feeling the sword needs extra protection she sends out a call for noble warriors. Much like in “The Magnificent Seven,” the call is answered by a disparate group of adventure seekers who each have their own special set of skills as well as some pretty badass warrior names: Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), Silver Dart Shi (Juju Chan), Turtle Ma (Darryl Quon), Flying Blade (Chris Pang), and Iron Crow (Roger Yuan). My favourite is Turtle Ma, who is slow and likes a drink or two, but is a big guy covered in armor just like a turtle, so it is a fitting name.
Thickening the plot is a would-be warrior Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) who wishes to become Lien’s apprentice, and Wei-Fang (Harry Shum Jr.), a servant of Hades Dai sent to steal the sword. The two of them have a rather complicated connection from their past, and spend most of the movie going from disliking to liking each other, but the point is there are there to add a romantic element to the story. It sort of work, but most of the time you don’t watch a movie like this for the romance.
In that respect “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II” gets the job done. Once again we see actors practically gliding as they jump from rooftop to rooftop, or in beautiful scene set at night on a frozen lake jump from ice block to ice block. Another well choreographed and slightly amusing sequence has two characters fight each other while trying to steal the sword of destiny, but are trying to keep their fight as quiet as possible since if they break anything in the room it will attract the guards. Today’s special effects also introduce some mysticism in the form of a witch (Eugenia Yuan) who has the ability to teleport and multiply herself much like a certain X-Man.
The story for this newest chapter in the “Crouching Tiger” franchise might not be too original when compared to the many other martial arts that have come out over the years, but the cast keep things entertaining and the fight scenes are a sight to behold. One does wonder why The Weinstein Company chose to release the film directly online to audience’s laptops and iPads instead of giving them a chance to admire the film’s beauty on the big screen.