SIXTEEN YEARS after the original, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is back... on Netflix! That's the irony of the Netflix business model, staying relevant by reviving properties from decades past.
The first Crouching Tiger, directed by Ang Lee, was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning four, and to some extent felt like the natural evolution of the kind über-stylized action movie popularized by the likes of John Woo. (Oh, you got flying doves? Well, we got flying people!) In retrospect, the film also feels like the high-water mark for action fantasy: There was always at least one kid who, unswayed by the jetpack defense, could never handle the idea of their GI Joes flying, and in the same way, Crouching Tiger's oft-imitated brand of wire-fu feels like a litmus test to separate concrete from magical thinkers. (I admit that even I have some trouble finding an internal logic to the action once characters start fighting on cliff's edges or the roofs of tall buildings. I'm supposed to be worried they'll fall? I just saw them fly!)
Crouching Tiger's original action choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping directs this sequel, which is about a mystical sword, though I won't bore you with much plot summary since it doesn't really matter. The other big difference is that this one's in English. It feels like it should be dubbed, but isn't, and the pan-Asian cast speaks English in a panoply of accents, giving the film a weird sense of universal exoticism. Like the original, the sequel combines martial arts action with high-art production design in a way that feels a little like B-movie interpretive dance. With Yuen at the helm, it leans a little more to the B-movie side. While Lee has a tendency to be... how shall I put this... up his own ass, Yuen knows he ain't winning any Oscars for this, which allows him to have a little more fun. The fact Sword of Destiny knows it's a little silly doesn't take away from the impressiveness of the choreography and design—in fact, it probably makes it easier to enjoy.
No, none of this high-wire flying swordplay stuff is new. But the fact that Sword of Destiny doesn't have to be a showcase for a style allows style to take its proper supporting role. Yuen can use the hammer to build something, without having to frame it and mount it on the wall. It's... nice. And the action looks great on your flatscreen.