In the first year of the new millennium, Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh soared across the silver screen as protagonists in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The multi-Oscar winning film was a critical and commercial triumph, introducing global audiences to the wuxia genre (of superhuman martial arts) and Chinese-language cinema.
Sixteen years later Netflix has released a sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny – based upon the final book in author Wang Dulu’s quintet. Unfortunately for the US entertainment giant it has failed to reach the heights of its predecessor, particularly amongst Chinese audiences.
A review by Global Times opines: “While the plot might be alright for a Western audience who don’t have much knowledge of wuxia, for a Chinese audience the understanding of the wuxia spirit is too shallow.”
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took great pains to appeal to both its “native” and its foreign audiences. The script for the film was developed through an arduous process of translation: director Lee Ang first wrote a synopsis of the eponymous book (translating from Chinese into English) and then presented it to James Schamus who adapted it into a screenplay; this was then translated back into Chinese; after which it was translated back into English, adapted again, and so on, before the final version materialised in Mandarin.
The tireless reworking of the script had the welcome effect that the story resonated with Chinese and foreign viewers (and imbued it with an “understanding of the wuxia spirit” reckoned the Global Times). Meanwhile the decision to ultimately film it in Mandarin was no contest for Lee, who said that a wuxia film in English would be “like seeing John Wayne speaking Chinese in a Western”.
The team behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny didn’t appear to share this sentiment. The sequel was filmed in English, and later dubbed for a Chinese audience – and apparently poorly, at that. “The dubbed Chinese is delivered in a really plain way that fails to match the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters, making it hard for the audience to get into the film,” the Global Times comments.
Local audiences concur: the film rated only 2.5 stars on Douban – China’s authoritative website for publicly sourced reviews – as opposed to the four stars held by its predecessor. In fact, its association with the 2001 Oscar-winning film appears to have earned it some of its low ratings, given how disgruntled some fans of the original appear to be. One of those reviewers who gave it a lowly one-star commented: “If it didn’t say it was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon I could have easily given it two stars.”
Many feel that the sequel has very little in common with the first movie, aside from its name, Michelle Yeoh’s role reprisal and the involvement of Yuen Woo-ping (who choreographed the original’s epic fight scenes).
Sword of Destiny features a cast mostly of Australian- and American-Asian actors (including a Glee cast-member) who, as previously noted, are speaking English (not even always in China – large parts were filmed in New Zealand).
Perhaps Netflix’s role in the production accounts for the comparative lack of consideration for its Chinese-speaking viewers, because the online streaming service is unavailable in the country and releasing the film through the Netflix portal – as well as in cinemas – was its primary objective. But with China set to become the world’s largest cinema market, perhaps Netflix should have made more of its debut beyond the Great Firewall.
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