Some neat action sequences, but not much else.
Movie Review #1,056
Distributed by The Weinstein Company and Netflix. Action, Adventure, Drama. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Rated PG-13 for martial arts violence and brief partial nudity. Released February 26, 2016. Directed by Woo-Ping Yuen. Screenplay by John Fusco. From the book by Du Lu Wang. Starring Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, Harry Shum Jr., Jason Scott Lee, and Natasha Liu Bordizzo.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” is the third feature film to be distributed directly through Netflix streaming. The good news is that it’s Netflix’s first original film to be mildly entertaining, if only for how thoroughly corny it is. At the end of the day, nothing in the film makes up for the fact that this is a pointless movie. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” didn’t need a sequel, and the one it got came a decade and a half late. Netflix is establishing a reputation for producing films that big-league studios are throwing out. In this case, you can pretty much see why.
“Sword of Destiny” follows “Crouching Tiger” the same way “Hannibal” followed “The Silence of the Lambs”. The mood and setting are astronomically different from what Ang Lee captured in the original film. There’s no real plot here, just a string of motifs that one might recognize as major stereotypes for a Chinese martial arts film. Had it not been for Michelle Yeoh’s role in the film, or the titular sword that was so prominent in the first film, you might be led to believe that this is a completely unrelated movie.
“Sword of Destiny” is what it looks like to westernize a traditionally eastern genre. Rather than the other way around, it was filmed in English and then dubbed into Chinese. Ironically, the English-language delivery in “Sword of Destiny” is just as stale as the memorably horrendous English-language dubbing in the original film. You kind of pity writer John Fusco (yes, the writer is American), not only because he’s doing everything in the wrong language, but also because his script is very dull. Even Michelle Yeoh’s solid performance is reduced by the sort of dialogue she’s given.
What keeps our interest is the action. The film benefits from the fact that Woo-Ping Yuen, the award-winning choreographer of the original “Crouching Tiger”, is its director. The martial arts scenes in “Sword of Destiny” are cartoonish but fun. Particularly during the final half hour, special effects and choreography come together awesomely. However, not everything on the technical side of “Sword of Destiny” is so good. The cinematography offered by Newton Thomas Sigel is a distracting exhibition of bright colors. It’s no wonder the film’s working title was “The Green Legend”, because the green of every plant and shrubbery seems to stand out in every frame. You start to wonder if you’re supposed to be in ancient China or Oz.
Up until about eight months ago, “Sword of Destiny” was planned to be a nationwide IMAX event that would be simultaneously available through Netflix streaming. Then its original August 2015 release date was pushed to February 2016, and during the time in between, IMAX grew less interested in the film. Now it’s an overlooked Netflix film that can also be viewed in as few as 10-12 IMAX theaters.
So basically you have three options. One is to go see it in IMAX. It’s not playing within 40 miles of Boston, Philly, Miami, Detroit, or Phoenix, but it is playing in Elizabeth, NJ, and Industry City, CA. I would not recommend this unless you have a car with good gas mileage, the theater validates parking, and you’re willing to spend twenty bucks on a ticket. The second option is to watch it on Netflix. You can sign up with Netflix for $7.99 a month, though I’m sure as soon as you start browsing for “Sword of Destiny”, you’ll find a dozen better movies and watch them instead. The third option, of course, is to skip the movie altogether, which I recommend, because it’s free and you’re not missing out on anything.