While I wasn’t thrilled with it, Sword of Destiny, the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, only minimally disappointed. I honestly wasn’t expect much more than a chance to see Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh in a half-decent kung-fu movie. I got Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, kung-fu and a movie.
I’m going to talk about what I liked first, and then I’ll get into what didn’t work for me. The latter is much longer than the former.
The fight scenes were good. They weren’t great, and there weren’t any that really impressed me. Part of this, I think, was the reliance on big fights. It was generally the hero(s) against a crowd of baddies. There was very little of that in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In that earlier movie, the fights functioned as extensions of character interaction, which was why they were so expressive as well as being impressive. The fights told the story even more than the dialogue. The character’s revealed themselves in their styles. Sword of Destiny is more like an adventure movie, with the hero(s) taking on a bunch of minions with only a couple of one-on-one fights. And other than the fight on the frozen lake – which was pretty cool – even those didn’t live up to some of Yuen Woo-Ping’s former work.
I would rate the fight scenes in Sword of Destiny about the same as those in Iron Monkey – also a Yuen Woo-Ping movie – which means they were good, but they served a totally different function than the fights in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
And as with the fight on the frozen lake, there were some great scenic visuals in the movie. It wasn’t a constant canvas as was its predecessor, but it did have a bunch of really beautiful shots, some of them pretty obviously CGI or computer-enhanced, which frankly wasn’t necessary.
But that was it. It was enough for me to enjoy the movie on the level I generally enjoy kung-fu movies.
Having said that, there is no way this could ever be the successor to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That was a piece of art and I don’t think we’ll ever get that confluence of talent again. Sword of Destiny was cashing in on the name. Yes, it had Michelle Yeoh and it had Yuen Wo-Ping, but what it didn’t have was depth.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was actually a very small story. It was intimate. It was about these few people, their interactions, their desires, and their pain. Sword of Destiny may have tried to go epic with a story of Hades Dai seeking dominion over the Martial World, but it failed to achieve that. We really knew nothing about the villain or his motivation. He was big and bad and that was all. But that’s not surprising. None of the characters got any real depth. The relationship of Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and “Silent Wolf” (Donnie Yen) relies on an understanding of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it lacked the subtleties and delicacy of Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai from the original.
Which is a shame, because the movie has a Seven Samurai piece to it in which Silent Wolf recruits a collection of knights errant of the Martial World to protect the Green Destiny – Flying Blade, Thunder Fist, Silver Dart Shi, and Turtle Ma. These could have been really fun characters in another movie, but they did not fit the sombre tone of this one. I would actually love to see a an action-adventure kung-fu movie with the exploits of this crew, but that would be a totally different movie than this one, which attempts at profound rather than pulse-pounding.
And that sombre tone – a carry-over from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – wasn’t consistent throughout. While it never fell into “light hearted,” the movie seemed much more like an adventure movie than character piece with kung fu of its predecessor. The attempt to maintain solemnity may have been part of the reason for the very dull deliveries by most of the actors. Even very solid actors like the two leads didn’t really compel here, probably because they had so little to work with.
So in the end, I have to say Sword of Destiny failed to meet even my minimal expectations, but it didn’t miss by much. I never expected another Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I had hoped for a quality film with some great action.
I give Sword of Destiny 3 villainous mobs of martial arts outlaws out of 5. While the fight scenes were pretty good, they were part of a movie that attempted to be both epic and deep and failed at both.
You can watch the trailer here.