Sixteen years after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became a worldwide phenomenon, the sequel has been released today in China ahead of its U.S. debut via Netflix on February 26. Directed by Yuen Wo-ping, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny stars the original’s Michelle Yeoh along with Donnie Yen, Harry Shum Jr and Jason Scott Lee. It grossed about $10M in its first Middle Kingdom day today, giving it the No. 2 spot behind juggernaut The Mermaid, and setting it up for a potential $40M weekend. Occasional Deadline contributor Harvey Weinstein, one of the film’s producers, offers his take on expanding a classic:
As the Chinese saying has it, “When you drink the water, remember from where the water flows.” From my very first experiences watching Chinese action cinema, I was committed to sharing my love for this genre, known as wu xia, with the rest of the world. The film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny is a product of this long-held ambition, a summation of my lifelong passion for Chinese culture in general and wu xia cinema in specific.
When I was first set out to bring the best of Chinese martial arts cinema to the West, I benefited from the unique insight and energy of Quentin Tarantino, perhaps the only mainstream American filmmaker to have seen more Asian action movies that I have. After we saw Yuen Woo-ping’s masterful Iron Monkey, Quentin and I released the film theatrically in North America. We later collaborated with Master Yuen on the hugely successful Kill Bill movies.
After I discovered the films of Donnie Yen, then the rising star of kung fu movies, I cast him in Highlander: Endgame and later distributed many of his finest films: Hero, Seven Swords and Wu Xia. After I became a fan of Michelle Yeoh, the queen of martial arts action, I released the film Supercop, in which she co-stars with Jackie Chan, as well as some of her traditional kung fu epics including Twin Warriors and John Woo’s Reign Of Assassins. Our co-production of Forbidden Kingdom, our theatrical release of Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster — these are just a few examples of my commitment to bringing Chinese culture to the world market, a commitment that reaches its pinnacle with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny. With this film, I finally got the chance to turn my inspiration into action, and to work with some true legends of the Chinese film industry.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny stars Yen and Yeoh, and is directed by the true maestro of the genre, Yuen Woo-ping. To make a movie worthy of the title Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I called on the finest filmmakers from around the world — Oscar-winning designers, Hollywood veterans, cutting-edge visual effects experts. All these diverse hands shared my desire that we paint a tapestry that tells a tale of China, in all the majesty of its culture and history.
All too often, the manner in which a film is made is completely at odds with the message of its story. In this case, everyone behind the camera was infused with the same code of loyalty and commitment as the characters on screen, a code derived from the traditional Chinese values expressed in the script.
When we first announced that we were making this film, everyone asked me, “Why would you want to create a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” And my answer is that I didn’t create the sequel. The author Wang Du-lu did. He was the one who wrote a fifth book in his series of Iron Crane novels, with director Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon being adapted from the fourth book in the series. In making this film, I felt it was my duty to be true to the spirit of Wang Du-lu, just as my good friends Ang Lee and Bill Kong were when they made the first Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The greatest respect we could give to Lee was to not try and copy what he had done. Where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was shot in Mandarin, we filmed in English, with a script by the acclaimed John Fusco, a writer with a profound understanding of both Chinese Easterns and American Westerns. We used this film to explore the common ground between the two genres, inspired in equal part by films like King Hu’s A Touch Of Zen and John Ford’s Fort Apache. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny proves that East and West can meet, and to the benefit of both. Where Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had underperformed in its native territory, we were determined to make a movie that would find favor with Chinese audiences, especially now that China has established itself as such a major theatrical market.
The other question that people ask is, “How does Ang Lee feel about your making this film?” This is best answered by my relating an incident that occurred while director Yuen Woo-ping and one of our producers, Bey Logan, were scouting for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny in New Zealand.
They were visiting Peter Jackson’s Park Road post-production facility where, quite by chance, they met Ang Lee. Ang was quick to express his encouragement to Master Yuen on his making Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny. As they parted ways, Bey observed to Ang that he had left them a very tough act to follow. Ang stopped in his tracks and said, “Don’t think that way. Just have fun with it!” And we took his advice as our watchword. Incidentally, the odds against this encounter happening between Ang Lee and Yuen Woo-ping at that time and that place are so astronomical, one would have to accept that it was fated we would receive Ang’s blessing.
The epic canvas afforded by this wu xia epic allowed some of the industry’s finest talents to shine. We were blessed to have the Oscar-winning team of Grant Major and Ngila Dickson, the production and costume designers respectively for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, to recreate the colors and textures of this ancient dynasty. These truly spectacular costumes and sets were photographed by Thomas Newton Sigel, the world-renowned cinematographer who previous turned his lens to the hit X-Men film series. Seeing how the world of action cinema has progressed since the first Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, both Tom and director Yuen were determined to create a new visual language for our action scenes, a style that would pay homage to the genre’s earlier classics, but also enhance it. For one of the standout set pieces, a swordplay duel on a frozen lake, we relied on the skills of Oscar-winning VFX designer Mark Stetson.
Director Yuen Woo-ping proves once again what a unique talent he is in terms of directing a wu xia with heart as well as blood. I have admired the films he’s directed, including Drunken Master and Wing Chun, and those he has choreographed, such as Fist Of Legend and Fearless.
From my Miramax era until now, I’ve released about 200 hundred Chinese films, including many of Master Yuen’s classics. The fact that Yuen Woo-ping is held in such high regard attracted people like Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and Peter Berg (Lone Survivor), world-class directors in their own right, to fly to New Zealand to provide their unique energy and insights in support of Master Yuen’s vision.
In terms of our cast, we were truly blessed to have Michelle Yeoh reprise her role as Yu Shu-lien. I asked Master Yuen to convince Michelle to come on board. I knew from personal experience that Michelle can say “no” in five languages, but never to Yuen Woo-ping. On-camera, Michelle is the very heart of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Off-camera, she has been the true compass of our film, always making sure we stayed on course.
Opposite Michelle we have Donnie Yen, a true martial hero, for real and reel, the star of the highly acclaimed Ip Man film series. I’m very proud that this film shows Donnie’s acting and action skills in equal measure, and in a movie that will reach those fans who still refuse to watch subtitled films. The chemistry between Donnie and Michelle is electric in any language, but pairing them in the first English-language wu xia will bring their talents, and those of everyone involved in the film, to a massive new worldwide audience.
It also proved a blessing that my friends Ted Sarandos and Pauline Fischer at Netflix shared our aim and commitment to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny. They have proved to be the true comrades every warrior hopes to have at their side, and we couldn’t have made the film we made without their creative contributions. I was also lucky to have the financial and moral support of my good friend Ron Burkle of Yucaipa, and of course a wonderful Chinese partner company in Pegasus, which is run by the tireless and inspired Jay Sun and Victor Li.
I’m proud to offer this film to international audiences, to give them a new and enlightened perspective on Chinese culture, and to the Chinese people, whose timeless art and traditions inspired everyone who made it.