16 years is a long time to wait for a sequel, especially when the first film went down as an international smash hit that found fans all over the globe and pulled in no less than ten Oscar nominations — but that’s sort of where the film industry stands these days. Just about any movie can get a remake, reboot, prequel, or sequel provided that producers sense there’s still an audience for the material. And while Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may seem like an unlikely film to spawn sequels, it probably shouldn’t. There’s always a market for well-made martial arts epics, after all, and especially one that can claim to be a follow-up to one of the most popular martial arts epics ever produced.
Unfortunately, Woo-Ping Yuen’s long-gestating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny lacks the epic scope, the mystical wonder, and the emotional heft of the original film — but, to be fair, it does offer a heaping handful of legitimately nifty action sequences to enjoy. (That’s what happens when your director is one of the finest — if not the finest — action choreographers working today.) Whereas the original film evoked sort of a Chinese fairy tale vibe, the follow-up is content to be a basic yet modestly effective period piece/action flick.
Our connection to the first film is Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), a wise and famously powerful martial arts master who is tasked with protecting the legendary “Green Destiny” sword that pretty much every villain in 1,000 miles wants to possess for their own nefarious purposes. And while this sequel may lack the majesty, the grandeur, and the novelty of its predecessor, it does earn points for introducing a host of colorful new characters. Not only does Yu Shu Lien have a variety of allies to fight alongside (both new friends and old flames) but there are also some amusingly bombastic villains to contend with.
If Sword of Destiny succeeds on the back of its visual splendor and frequent action sequences (and it does) then it sort of struggles through some of the more soap operatic relationships between its disparate heroes. Not only does Yu Shu Lien carry an old torch for the heroic Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), but there’s also a burgeoning romance between one of her students and a young troublemaker who was caught trying to steal the Green Destiny for his own mysterious purposes. Not much of the romantic stuff manages to leave much of an impact, thanks mainly to a relatively haphazard editorial approach that seems to place a lot more value on the action sequences than on anything else.
But while Sword of Destiny pales in comparison to the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in many regards, it does manage to deliver a generous portion of legitimately nifty action sequences. The budget is clearly a fraction of what the original film had to work with (which means that some of the visual effects are fine while others are a bit sketchy-looking) but that doesn’t stop Yuen from staging all sorts of ambitious and kinetic set pieces in taverns, on frozen lakes, and atop crumbling towers. There’s even a superhero-ish gang of brawlers with names like Flying Blade, Turtle Ma, and Silver Dart that helps to keep things suitably pulpy and colorful.
Had the slim-yet-entertaining Sword of Destiny been a late-arriving sequel to a simple action flick, it’d probably feel like more of an accomplishment, but as a follow-up to one of the genre’s most impressive epics it feels more than a little underwhelming. The film offers solid performances, decent action, and a generally impressive visual presentation, but one would expect a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to feel a bit more impressive than what’s offered here.
3 Green Burritos of Destiny out of 5