Sword of Destiny is the much belated sequel to what I think is probably the greatest martial arts movie of the 21st century, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. After the crushing death of Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat), Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) has spent the last 18 years in isolation, withdrawn from a world she wants no part of. After the passing of Sir Te (Sihung Lung) Yu travels to pay her respects to her fallen friend and finds herself being drawn into an escalating conflict with the leader of the West Lotus society, Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), a man who wants to take over the martial arts world but needs the powerful Green Destiny to complete his conquest. To protect The Green Destiny, Yu puts out a call for 'followers of the iron' to help her and among the few that come are Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), a man Yu was once betrothed to.
On the advice of his blind oracle (Eugenia Yuan), Dai orders that Tiefang (Harry Shum Jr) is to infiltrate the compound and steal The Green Destiny. The young Tiefang fails his order and is taken prisoner by Yu. Uncharacteristically Yu also takes on a student, Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), sensing that there is something between her and Tiefang. We're led to believe that the followers of the iron are the last of the great martial artists that could pose a problem for Hades Dai, especially if they hold The Green Destiny. Their motives are never explained well, only that they seem to be a dwindling group of devoted warriors who believe in honor, nobility and courage above all else. Virtues that seem to be on a steep decline.
Presumably Li Mu Bai was a follower of the iron, as was Yu Shu Lien until she left it disillusioned when Li Mu Bai died. Yu even said that "Honor, duty, excuses for bloodshed. That is why I left it behind, all those years ago." but since any mention of followers of the iron was not in the original, they feel incongruous with the tone of the original where they would wander wherever the wind would take them and have adventures. Admittedly the followers of iron were still scattered, but it still didn't feel like it gelled with the original. I haven't read the books so I can't say how closely the movie followed the book, but even if this was in the book, it didn't feel right in the movie.
The atmosphere didn't feel in step with the original either. The first movie was a very intimate and almost poetic wuxia movie, but Sword of Destiny is about a one-dimensional warlord who wants to rule over the world. The intention of both movies seem to be worlds apart, and yet it more or less copies the dynamics of the original, but Sword of Destiny simply didn't have a droplet of the depth, substance and feeling that the original had. I felt like Sword of Destiny was more of a companion piece to The Storm Riders than it was to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, at least in a narrative and tonal sense.
The screenplay was a major downfall, where in the original characters had meaningful discussions, you're lucky if you get more than two sentences at a time from any of the characters in this movie at all. The stunningly vibrant energy of the original is gone and we're instead given this dull and lifeless movie. Maybe it was the intention that the beauty from almost two decades past is gone and now the martial arts world is a bleak one, but I think that would be giving credit where credit isn't due. The main bulk of the movie takes place where Hades Dai hasn't been yet, so it's untouched, yet it still felt drab and boring to look at. That's a feeling I never ever, ever got watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that it was visually boring, on the contrary.
A lot of people have griped about Sword of Destiny being in English and after seeing it for myself, I agree completely. It was an egregious mistake to have them speaking English in the sequel. It again distanced itself from the 'feel' of the original. The reasoning for it was so they would be able to show it to more people, but I find most people don't mind reading subtitles anyway, and subtitles didn't seem to hurt the original any either. I felt like it added to the authenticity of the movie. I know other movies have recorded in English when they shouldn't have been, if they were going for realism, but this is different. It would be like if they shot The Matrix in English and then inexplicably shot The Matrix: Reloaded in Mandarin, there's no need for it and it greatly reduces any sense of continuity in the franchise.
I already mentioned how minimal the dialogue was, so the two romances that were being developed were not involving or believable at all. When Li Mu Bai died my heart sank, but when (I wont say who) dies, I felt nothing. The pacing felt too rushed, an extra 30 minutes to allow the story to breathe a little life into the characters could have helped it a lot. The action occurred more often than its predecessor and it was generally 'bigger', action but it was also more forgettable as well. Sword of Destiny had some nice action moments and was shot competently, but there's nothing that comes even remotely close to the Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu duel in the original. I would also like to know if Snow Vase was supposed to be the 'daughter' of Jen Yu?
I know I keep comparing Sword of Destiny to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon too, but all sequels are measured against their original and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon set the bar remarkably high, too high it seems. Many questioned the need for a sequel, I know I did and now I wish it didn't happen, just like The Hobbit movies. Should have left greatness alone. I'm not a fan of movies being made specifically for Netflix, or Netflix playing any sort of part of them. I don't know to what extent Netflix was involved, but Sword of Destiny did feel like a TV movie, seems strange given that the original only cost $17 million while Sword of Destiny is rumored to have cost upwards of $20 million. It was a decent enough waste of time, but never managed to step outside of its predecessors shadow, not even close.
Written by - The Sentry - 28/02/2016