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Review:  ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ lacks the magic of original

‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ lacks the magic of original
Harry Shum Jr. as Tiefang in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny.”
(Rico Torres / Netflix)

With a handful of Oscar statuettes and the title of all-time highest-grossing foreign language film in North America, it makes sense that producer Harvey Weinstein would want to return to the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” well. Now, three years after being announced, sequel “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” arrives on select IMAX screens and streaming on Netflix.

“Crouching Tiger’ action choreographer and veteran director Yuen Woo-ping steps into the directorial role for “Sword of Destiny,” taking over for the great Ang Lee. Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as wise warrior Yu Shu Lien, but there are notable absences from the first film, including those of costars Chow Yun-fat and Zhang Ziyi.

“Sword of Destiny” pulls actors from Asia, America and Australia to fill its cast, including “Ip Man” star Donnie Yen and “Glee” actor Harry Shum Jr. The film, shot in New Zealand, is entirely in English, and that’s not the only difference between the two. While the performers continue to battle for ownership of the sword “Green Destiny,” taking flights of deadly aerial fantasy in balletic displays of martial arts, that’s where the similarities end.

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Ang Lee is unmatched in depicting repressed, forbidden love against sweeping vistas (see also: “Brokeback Mountain,” “Sense and Sensibility”), which gave the burning heart and soul to the original “Crouching Tiger.” “Sword of Destiny” does not achieve the same effect. While there are a few beautiful establishing shots, much of the plot is confined to a compound courtyard, where the Green Destiny is being protected by the House of Te.

There are a few inventive battles on a frozen pond and atop the tiled roof of a temple, but they are so CGI-enhanced as to seem cartoonish, not marvelous. Narratively, there’s an over-reliance on flashbacks to bring a sense of epic scope to what is a rather small and dramatically inert story. Shum and newcomer Natasha Liu Bordizzo are positioned as the new warrior duo, and they bring some vigor and muscle, but otherwise, the line readings are as stiff as if they were dubbed. A serviceable Netflix watch for martial arts devotees, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” doesn’t come close to the original film’s legacy.

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‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’

MPAA rating: PG-13, for martial arts violence and brief partial nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: AMC Puente Hills 20, City of Industry. Also on Netflix anytime