Monday, March 14, 2016

'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny' --A Review



I didn't really know what to think of this movie at first. It seemed slow, ponderous and lacked the grace and effortless choreography of the first movie- and it seemed to lack some of the production values as well. It was nice, however, to see the familiar face of Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) emerge from her retirement in solitude to travel once more to Peking, where the Green Destiny, the sword of Li Mu Bai, her beloved resides in the house of Sir Te, who has recently died.

The world has changed since the first movie: there's less honor, there's more chaos and the West Lotus clan has a Warlord, Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee) who is looking for a blade strong enough to let him dominate the entire world. A young woman by the name of Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) arrives at his tower, attempting to join his ranks- as he approaches, she attempts to kill him, but is easily driven off. Meanwhile, a young man by the name of Wei Fang (Harry Shum, Jr.) is making his way through the forest when a blind enchantress (Eugenia Yuan) finds him and tells him to take her to Dai. Once there, she tells Dai to find the Green Destiny as it will allow him to dominate the world. Dai is reluctant to storm the house of the Emperor's brother, but the enchantress tells him to send Wei Fang and he does so.

Shu Lien, have arrived in Peking for the funeral of Sir Te finds that the Green Destiny is kept at Sir Te's house and isn't all that secure. She wonders about that and with good reason, as Wei Fang attempts to steal the sword, only to be stopped by Snow Vase- who enlists the help of Shu Lien to capture him and does so. She then asks for Shu Lien's help in learning 'the Iron Way.'

Realizing that Hades Dai will stop at nothing to retrieve the sword, Shu Lien asks for help from any remaining followers of 'the Iron Way' that are still out there- and happily, gets a response. Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), Silver Dart Shi (JuJu Chan), Turtle Ma (Darryl Quon), Thunder Fist Chan (Woon Young Park) and Flying Blade (Chris Pang) show up to help guard the sword and, for awhile, they are successful- until Hades Dai, having learned that Wei Fang has failed, sends a raiding party to retrieve the sword.

The raid is unsuccessful, but the son of Sir Te is killed in the process- and Snow Vase reveals what she knows about Wei Fang's past and releases him, but is horrified to discover that he has stolen the sword. Shu Lien and the surviving warriors storm the compound of Hades Dai to retrieve the sword in a final, climactic battle. (As always: no spoilers for the ending.)

I was dubious about this movie at first... while it didn't seem like an unnecessary sequel, it also seemed like a sequel that no one was exactly clamoring for either and other than Michelle Yeoh being awesome as she ever is, the first twenty five minutes of this movie felt painfully slow. It didn't help matters that the close captioning was slightly out of whack with the actual dialogue either. Around the twenty five minute mark, however things took a turn- and by the time we meet Silent Wolf and his Warrior Posse, you find yourself drawn into the story and see the familiar touches that made the first movie so great emerge.

I keep coming back to Michelle Yeoh's performance in this movie though- her presence touches every corner of this movie and even with the arrival of Silent Wolf, who gives her character some more backstory and context doesn't less the importance of her role. Reams of words have been written about Hollywood and how unfairly they treat actresses after a certain age, but Yeoh's gravitas and authority makes it clear that if anyone has sent her that particular memo she didn't get it and if she did, she doesn't particular care. To be honest, it made me wish she was in more stuff- and in fact, I checked IMDB only to find that she's been plenty busy. (Tangent: while Tomorrow Never Dies might not have been the best Brosnan Bond movie, Yeoh's presence in it makes it a contender. She remains one of the greatest female characters in the entire Bond oeuvre and while I would have preferred that she ran off at the end and left James twisting in the wind, if she did sleep with him, it was as his equal for once and not as the usual damsel in distress/eye candy bullshit that Bond so often defaults too. Eva Green's portrayal of Vesper Lynn matches Yeoh's performance in that regard.) (Second tangent: Yeoh's presence in Tomorrow Never Dies made it exponentially better-but contrast that with The World Is Not Enough, which I remain convinced could have been one of the all-time great Bonds save for the presence of Denise Richards who's character is in the movie to set up a joke you can see coming (haha) from the outer edges of the Solar System and who is so unbelievable as a nuclear physicist, it drags the movie down. Even the equally ridiculously named Dr. Holly Goodhead from Moonraker was a more credible scientist than Christmas Jones.)

Overall: A slow start doesn't doom this movie and while it's not the sequel I think a lot of people were looking for, it's a solid, respectable sequel that captures the grace and beauty of it's predecessor quite nicely. Donnie Yen turns in a sold performance as Silent Wolf, but it's Michelle Yeoh who owns this movie. She makes it worth watching. *** out of ****.

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