Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Review: 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny' by Wang Du Lu, tr. Justin Hill

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of DestinyCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of my favourite foreign films and was what made me fall in love with Chinese martial arts films, as well as Ang Lee. So when I heard there was not only a sequel but a novelisation of said sequel I was very excited! And I'm glad I had a chance to read it and that I am today's blog tour stop! Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 14/07/2016
Publisher: Little, Brown
When master warrior Shulien learns of the death of her family's patron, she abandons retirement and returns to the capital to protect Green Legend, a sword renowned for its historic triumphs. But much has happened in the years she has been in seclusion, and she finds herself beset on all sides with hidden enemies, and the tragic past which she had hoped to forget returns to haunts her. 
In her hour of need arrives a beautiful young warrior, Snow Vase, who is seeking a master. But the new apprentice is not all that she seems. When she falls in love with the bandit Wei-fang, a secret is revealed that makes all of them question who is friend and who is foe. In an age of thwarted love, can these two youths find happiness? 
Based on the original novels by Wang Du Lu, this is a beautiful love story set in the fading years of nineteenth century Imperial China.
What I have always loved about Chinese martial arts films is the crucial role women play to the plot. In Hollywood action films they're too often relegated to the sidelines, made to fight in high heels or are killed to provide a tragic backstory for the male hero. In the last year we've seen some change come into that with films like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Force Awakens, but it's something that I've always found in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. Shu-Lien was one of my favourite characters in the original and she continues to be so in Sword of Destiny, where she undoubtedly becomes the main star. The novel also fares best when dealing with her and her story, calming down a little bit and going into depth on the ideas of honour and duty which were also strong in the original film.

I very much liked the idea that Shu-lien has left the life of fighting behind but that the reappearance of Green Legend, a sword, also forces her to return to the political and martial stage. The novel quite successfully brings together a number of different themes in its pages through this plot, such as sacrifice, romance, redemption and heroism. There is something of a generation divide in the novel between Shu-lien on one side and Snow Vase on the other. Whereas the former has a history to reconcile with, the later has to try and carve out a space for herself in this world. Again it was very refreshing to see a mentor-student relationship between two women, especially two women in what is seen by many as a male profession. It is partly what made the novel engaging for me, but Hill's development of the two characters was also intriguing.

It's important to remember that this is a novelisation of the script, most likely not the shooting script but an early finished draft. As such, it may be that once the film comes out next month there will be some changes to the story. However, these films are also based on the novels of Wang Du Lu, which have never been translated. Sword of Destiny is based on the novel Iron Knight, Silver Vase (鐵騎銀瓶) in the Cran-Iron series. Personally I love this kind of intertextuality and linking between different novels, but there is, for me, the sense that maybe the original story has been lost a little bit. Sword of Destiny wasn't as dazzling a novel as the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon film was in 2000. Justin Hill did a great job though, changing a screen play into an actual novel. The descriptions are stunning as are the battle scenes, which can tend to be rather dull when not well written.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Overall I did enjoy reading Sword of Destiny. Hill writes a beautiful story which isn't always equally engaging but has heart to it. Shu-lien remains an amazing character and Hill writes her well. Above all, this novel has made me very excited to see the film. I'd recommend this to fans of martial arts films and China-inspired literature.

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