The original “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is considered one of the greatest martial arts movies ever made — or, at least, one of the most popular in the West. The story is enticing and doesn’t feel cheesy. Cinematographically, the film inspires awe as the camera follows the dance of the martial artists. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is packed with beautiful shots of incredibly orchestrated martial arts fights that take place in breathtaking landscapes.
If you go into the sequel “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” expecting a movie like the original, though, you’ll be seriously disappointed. The only thing the two movies have in common is the title.
The plot is barely intelligible. Warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh, “Tomorrow Never Dies”) travels to Peking, where the Green Destiny (AKA the titular “Sword of Destiny”) is located. While traveling through the forest, a battle ensues. Here, we get our first taste of the martial arts that “Sword of Destiny” has to offer.
At first, the scene brings you right back into the world of the original “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Unfortunately, though, the fight choreography in “Sword of Destiny” is no longer the semi-supernatural dance that elevated the original movie above the typical martial arts film. These scenes lack the sparkle that made the first film so special.
A prophecy is told to Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee, “Back to the Future II”), the stereotypical mustache-twirling villain of the film, that he will rule the martial world if he obtains the Green Destiny. Yu Shu Lien brings the sword to the House of Te. Hades Dai then sends Wei Fang (Harry Shum Jr., “Step Up 2: The Streets”) to steal the sword from Yu Shu Lien and her clan.
Are you following? No? Me neither.
The story is poorly constructed. The object of the title remains relatively unexplained throughout the entire movie. There’s no explanation as to why the sword would allow Hades Dai to control the martial world. There’s no explanation as to why the sword is green. The sword doesn’t even look particularly cool. When the sword is used, it doesn’t seem to have any special powers. Perhaps this is the point of the film, but cinematically, it isn’t interesting. When a movie is called “Sword of Destiny,” it seems like it would be a good idea to make the sword something special and give a detailed, understandable explanation about it.
If upon watching “Sword of Destiny” you feel like you’ve seen it before, it’s probably because almost every scene has appeared in a genre movie before, like “Karate Kid,” “House of Flying Daggers” or “Kill Bill.” For example, when Snow Vase (newcomer Natasha Liu Bordizzo) trains with her master, she is repeatedly asked to do unreasonable tasks that only the master can do. She gets frustrated. This cycle constitutes the majority of the training scenes.
Most of the events in the movie seem to be constructed for the sole purpose of having a martial arts scene, which would be OK if these scenes were totally spectacular. The story is seriously lacking. Visually, the martial arts scenes aren’t as beautiful as they were in the original “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” They often take place in lame CGI landscapes that have very little to do with the plot of the movie.
From the original “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” we came to expect fantastical fights from motivated plots. “Sword of Destiny” ultimately fails to live up to its namesake.