Years have passed and the love triangle at the heart of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is long gone. But the fights are even more amusingly spectacular and the visuals — every frame a painting — are as sumptuous as ever in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny,” the sequel to the surprising 2000 Oscar winning hit.
Director Ang Lee is nowhere to be found, but actor turned stunt choreographer and director Yuen Woo-Ping (“Iron Monkey”) keeps this somewhat trite sequel on its feet and on the move, with the help of a willing and able (to fly) cast.
“The Sword of Destiny” finds Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) over 50 and long-removed from the noble but doomed love triangle that fired her actions nearly two decades ago. She has resolved to help protect this magically-endowed green sword from falling into the wrong hands.
That would be the West Lotus gang of Hades Dai, played by a balder, thicker and dubbed Jason Scott Lee (“Dragon”).
Yu Shu Lien is one of the last followers of “The Iron Way,” and she is entrusted not just with protecting the sword, but with taking on a pupil — the lithe and pale martial arts mistress Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). They capture one of Hades Dai’s masked villains (Harry Shum Jr.) and bide their time.
Because help is coming. It’s led by Yu Shu Lien’s long lost lover, now traveling the land in a wide-brimmed hat like some lone gunman of the Old West. “Silent Wolf” he is called, and the great martial artist Donnie Yen (“Hero”) returns from the dead to play him.
Yuen Woo-Ping gives Yen a star entrance, and hurls into one brawl after another, helped by a newly recruited gang of younger heroes such as “Silver Dart Shi” (Juju Chan) and Turtle Ma (Darryl Quon) and Flying Blade (Chris Pang), each with a particular skill
The fights and the wire work — You will believe a martial artist can fly! — are epic and beautifully staged. A scuffle on a frozen lake, beatdown in a forest roadhouse and the battle royale finale are real knee-slappers.
Yeoh and Yen wear a wonderful world weariness. The new players, stuck with switched baby stories, hidden birthmarks and such, are left high and dry.
Because the story is silly to the point of insipid. We sit through the usual montage of inscrutable training rituals (“A predictable attack has a predictable outcome.”) and brace ourselves for the blood that will be shed as the field is winnowed down for one final clash between the best of the best and the best of the worst.
The plot’s a yawner even if the action isn’t, all of it basically a set-up for a younger generation of wire-savvy young performers to move center stage in this not-really-a-saga. The world this is set in — super-saturated colors, pristine sets — feels surreal, less lived in than the best Jet Li/Jackie Chan/Donnie Yen kung for pictures.
Still, if the only martial arts movies you’re seeing are “Crouching Tiger” pictures, it’s good to know that they’re keeping up with the state of the art, even if they’re not actually inventing it.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for martial arts violence and brief partial nudity
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Harry Shum, Jr. Juju Chan, Eugenia Yuan
Credits: Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, script by John Fusco. A Weinstein Co./Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40