By: Matthew J.R. Kohler
Donnie Yen might be my favorite martial art star right now. For the past six years, I haven’t been able to get enough of this legendary action star. That said, I was stunned by how he (and Michelle Yeoh, from the original Crouching Tiger and Supercop) were used in the sequel to the original masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The film is directed by Yeun Woo Pien. Seeing as how he was the fight director behind Matrix, Hero, and the original Crouching Tiger, he was clearly a good choice to make in this wire-fighting-heavy film. Although he is an amazing fight director, his movie has problems. Major problems. Namely, the dragging story.
The movie is only 100 minutes, yet seven new characters are introduced. For forty minutes, I’m learning the names of people I felt I could play on “Dynasty Warriors”. Martial art films are based on action and storytelling, usually with one hero and one antagonist. When the hero fights, you want to cheer for them. I couldn’t care less when any of the characters fought or died, because they felt one-dimensional. Donnie Yen’s character Silent Wolf could have been an interesting character to follow, but his arc is very generic, leaving him with nothing interesting to do. It’s crazy to think that this movie stars Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh and Jason Lee Scott (from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story), yet I see more of two younger, unknown martial artists than anyone else.
Pictured: Donnie Yen, trying his best
Spending forty minutes on the “younger” characters was a terrible decision. I didn’t want to watch Crouching Tiger because I wanted to see these character’s problems. It would have been exciting to watch Donnie Yen and Jason Lee Scott fight in a struggling battle. Instead, we spend minutes watching the young female train, falling in love, and having more character development than Yeoh’s character.
I love Michelle Yeoh, but she does nothing in this movie. She just walked into every scene to move the plot forward. There was zero enhancement of her character. The original establishes her character as someone who doesn’t trust anyone, yet I don’t see that at all in this sequel. The first time someone asks to train with her, she accepts. In Ip Man, it takes forty minutes for a character who doesn’t train anyone to be forced into doing so. Also, Yeoh’s character has no real conflict. Every character says she is not forgiving, but she forgives throughout the movie! She supposedly doesn’t want help, yet accepts it several times in the movie. The only scene that worked for her is when she first interacts with Donnie Yen. He’s happy to see the love of his life, so he is shocked that Yeoh wants nothing to do with him. In the next scene, they speak without Yeoh making eye contact.
Boring the audience until the 30-minute mark is an acceptable way to tell a story, because it heightens the impact of that first big moment. This movie milks the boredom out of those thirty minutes for all they’re worth. I looked several times at the clock thinking, “When the hell are they going to fight, or do something?” Sure, I know there were fight scenes in the movie, but none were eye-popping or dramatic. This movie has seven to eight fight scenes with no purpose.
The biggest problem for me was how the fight scenes were shot. A camera angle they used frequently was the overhead angle (or helicopter shot). Once or twice it can be effective, but when it is a martial arts film, you want to see the choreography up close, not in far-away shots. (For what it’s worth, poor choreography is usually signaled by far-away shots; not saying any of it is bad in this movie, but that’s how it appears.)
We know all of the actors are highly capable of making amazing action scenes, so let them play with simpler angles! That way, the fights feel more personal. Bruce Lee used POV’s when fighting his opponents, Jackie Chan used closer angles, and Sammo Hung used facial reactions. Not only did none of the hits feel personal, but the actors’ reactions weren’t there. Hero is a similar movie that is more about the art of fighting than brutality, yet the battle of the minds is one of the most iconic fight scenes out there. Why is that? Not only is the scene emotional thanks to the music, but also you feel a sense of honor between the two opponents. This leads Donnie Yen to killing himself after he realizes he cannot win.
After watching, it made sense that this film went direct to Netflix. I am all for Netflix distributing martial art films. That way, people in the western hemispheres can view them the day they are released instead of waiting an eternity. But, show the genre some respect! Just because it has a title everyone knows, the best fight director in the last twenty years, and Donnie Yen, that doesn’t mean you can just skimp on the fight scenes and the story. I feel that no one making this movie had any emotional/artistic attachment to this film, judging from how bored all of the actors looked. Even the subtitle sounds like it was thought of by someone who would’ve rather been rearranging his sock drawer that day.