Monday, February 29, 2016

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny Review

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny Review

I remember watching "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" a long time ago, sometime around 5th grade or so. I didn't see it in theaters, but my family rented it. I don't remember much of it, since I have only seen it once, but I do remember having a fond experience with it. I liked Michelle Yeoh and I liked Chow Yun-Fat. I remember also being pretty impressed with the wire-fu style of the movie. I like kung-fu movies in general. I have a small yet sturdy collection here at my home. I figured I should take a chance on this sequel, especially since I have been impressed with Netflix's original programming thus far. At the other end of the experience, I feel really wanting to see the first movie again.

At the beginning of the movie, we learn that it has been 18 years since the passing of Li Mu Bai, the character Chow Yun-Fat played in the first film. Since his passing, Marshall China is about to break wide open. There is a group of West Lotus' lead by Hades Dai (Jason Lee Scott) who plans to move through China for conquer and conquest. Before he starts his plundering, Hades plans to steal a 400-year-old sword known as The Green Destiny. This sword is prominent in the first film and it is said that whomever possesses the sword can not be beaten in virtually any type of combat. Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh) plans to protect the sword from falling into the wrong hands. She joined by a mysterious fighter named Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), who puts together a rag-tag group to also help protect the sword. There is also a sub-plot involving a Hades follower Tiefang (Harry Chum Jr.) and how hunting for the sword changes his life, especially after meeting Yu Shu's student Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). 

With Michelle Yeoh returning and Donnie Yen being added to the roster, I figured this would be something that would feel like an instant classic. There are great performances by both Yeoh and Yen and some very kick-ass moments by both actors. I also loved the work done by Harry Chum Jr, most famous for his work on "Glee." Yes, that "Glee." Yes, he's the dancing Asian guy from the first few seasons and he's well cast here. A part of me would love to see Harry Chum Jr. play Liu Kang in an honest-to-God "Mortal Kombat" movie or show. I love how this movie feels like a comic book where each character is defined by the weapons they use, and there is certainly a colorful and creative atmosphere to the movie. A massive energy that is almost hard to shake.

But with most modern kung-fu movies, the flying around and the unearthly stunts can only go so far. In this sequel, I feel the movie almost out-does itself. Because the first movie used wiring for the flying, there was a much more realistic approach to the filming of the stunts. Here, everything is special effects. It has to be. There is an artificial flair to most of the movie that is so cheap that it took me out of the experience several times. The fight scenes just never live up to the amount of cool that kung-fu fans will be craving. It also doesn't help that there are several moments of tedium chit-chat, which really slow the momentum down. Sure, there is a lead to a big finish at the end, but even that doesn't feel like the epic final battle that I feel the movie wants it to be. The cheap, video-game look to the every visual in the movie really sticks out. It comes off awfully annoying.

There is a moment where Tiefang and Silent Wolf fight on a river of ice, and Tiefang is kicking sheets of ice at Silent Wolf, and Silent Wolf rightfully breaks them all down with his fierce kicks. I have come to expect such eye-popping scenarios in these movies. I just can't appreciate them when the CGI is so clearly bad. It is actually kind of hard to fathom that one mere detail is what is sending this movie so righteously downhill.

But there is a great cast of characters, and they hit some very good dramatic and humorous beats. It is easy to get wrapped up in the story and even enjoy most of the action scenes. There was just a raw energy to the first film that this sequel never achieves. It is merely a shadow of the first film, which sadly happens to lots of sequels. I also wonder that since this story hasn't been picked up in so long that there was just not a lot of momentum in the first place. I am starting to wonder if it really affects the outcome of a movie to not touch something for so long or let something go for years. I am noticing a trend, in both movies and TV, it is making me assume the worst for "Independence Day: Resurgence." Can there be any hope for sequels ten years in the making?

I don't know. But I will say that this movie does have a lot of heart, and for that, I kind of liked it.

FINAL GRADE: B

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