Combustible Celluloid
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With: Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, Harry Shum Jr., Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jason Scott Lee, Eugenia Yuan, Roger Yuan, Juju Chan, Chris Pang, Woon Young Park, Darryl Quon
Written by: John Fusco
Directed by: Yuen Woo-Ping
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for martial arts violence and brief partial nudity
Running Time: 100
Date: 02/26/2016

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sword Fishing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

First, let me just say that there is a difference between genre films made for mainstream acceptance and genre films made for fans. The former are generally slower, prettier, and more puffed-up and padded, while the latter are leaner, scrappier, and unafraid to wallow in the lower regions. If we're talking Westerns, it's the difference between Dances With Wolves and The Tall T, or if we're talking sci-fi, it's the difference between Avatar and Donnie Darko. And it's the difference between Ang Lee's original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and this sequel.

Lee's film tried to improve upon the martial arts genre, without understanding its inherent greatness or appeal. The sequel is directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, who choreographed the fight scenes in the original, and whose own directorial credits include Jackie Chan's original Drunken Master (1978), Iron Monkey (1993), and True Legend (2010); he's not as prestigious as Lee, and has fewer awards, but the man knows his kung fu.

In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Michelle Yeoh returns as Yu Shu Lien, sixteen years older, and helping to guard the legendary sword, the Green Destiny. Two thieves try to steal it on the same night; Wei-Fang (Harry Shum, Jr.) is caught and imprisoned, but Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) manages to convince Shu Lien of her innocence and becomes her pupil. Meanwhile, Shu Lien sends for help and gets it, in the form of Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen, also currently in Ip Man 3) and five misfit warriors.

The story throws in some intrigue: Silent Wolf was once in love with Shu Lien, and Snow Vase and Wei-Fang seem to have some kind of connection, but instead of glacially dwelling on these things, director Yuen keeps things moving — his film is a full 20 minutes shorter than the original — inventing ever-more startling and beautiful stunts and fights, including a breathtaking climax on a narrow ledge. So, yes, it doesn't compare to the original, but that might just be a good thing.

The film was released February 26, 2016, streaming on Netflix. Unlike the 2000 film, it's presented in English, but various language tracks and subtitles are available.

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