Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Year: 2016
Production Co: The Weinstein Company
Studio: Netflix
Director: Wo-Ping Yuen
Writer: John Fusco/Du Lu Wang
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Harry Shum Jr, Jason Scott Lee

You'd think it would take a far more important (or just better) film to cause such waves back when this sequel to Ang Lee's 2000 hit was announced. The spat that erupted between the Weinstein Company and theatre owners after the former announced their intention to release it on the same day both in theatres and on Netflix seemed like a turning point in the cinema distribution business.

So it's funny that (just like The Interview cost a studio head her job and nearly destroyed the whole studio besides even though it was little more than a dumb frathouse comedy) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny can only be summed up with a resounding thunk of 'meh' after all that hand-wringing.

It's tempting to think timing is the issue. When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out there wasn't a lot of classic, lyrical chop socky around, but in the years since it's had so many imitators it was always going to be hard for a sequel to stand out.

But it's more likely because this effort just doesn't have anywhere near the soul of the first film. The storytelling is mechanical, the characters and script are both bland and the tale being told just feels like a hundred other far-east Joseph Campbellian action/adventure journeys.

Even the fight scenes themselves feel like something you could see in any old martial arts film, ironic considering legendary fight choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen is directing. You'd almost expect it to have great fight scenes at the expense of everything else, like a lot of other movies where a department head gets the reins and ever other aspect besides what they're good at mostly sucks (see Firestorm, Twister, etc). But for a fight master to stage fight scenes that are only slightly above average is twice the letdown.

Li Mu Bai (played by Chow Yun Fat in the original) is nowhere to be seen as Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) travels to her former home to take possession of a mystical sword sought by a warlord (Jason Scott Lee) because it will give him the power to take over the whole land.

But in classic Hollywood tradition, anyone over 40 is considered the wise old sage while a new generation of photogenic twentysomethings become as much of – if not more – a focus of the story. In this case a captured spy from the warlord's army (Harry Shum Jr) and a young fighting ingénue (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) who wants Lien to train her fill out the romance and action.

There's also a band of comic sidekick mercenaries led by Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), the man who vows to help Lien protect the sword even though he broke her heart in a romantic feud involving Li Mui Bai decades earlier, one she's never recovered from.

Yeoh and Yen have poise and class, but the younger actors are too eager and not skilled enough to do much by themselves, and neither the pat story nor disappointing set action pieces lift the whole thing up any higher.

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