How nice it was to see a totally entertaining martial arts popcorn flick after a year of stinkers from Hong Kong. Wu Dang ain’t no Citizen Kane but the whole film is perfectly put together by competent filmmakers with a simple story to follow, plenty of eye-popping action and a nice nostalgic factor which acknowledges old Shaw Brothers flicks, wire-fu Hong Kong flicks of the 1990s, and Indiana Jones.
Set during the 1930s, a professor-style Indiana Jones (played by Wenzhuo Zhao) is chased by a Temple of Doom’s Lao Che-type baddie whom are both seeking out rare treasures. Zhao may look like a professor, but he’s actually a bad-ass fighter who ends up beating the crap out of Lao Che and his goons with ease. Chinese Indiana Jones and his Amelie-acting aviatrix teenage daughter (played by Jiao Xu – the kid from Stephen Chow’s CJ7) are then invited to an “Enter the Dragon/Mortal Kombat” island where they compete in a Wu Dang martial arts competition hosted by a cool old Taoist white-bearded monk and a younger Donnie Yen-lookalike monk. A gorgeous Chinese bombshell version of Audrey Hepburn (played by Mini Yang) sneaks into the competition with a secret mission to find her long-lost family sword. When the martial arts competition ends during the day, Indiana also goes on secret missions during the night to seek out seven magical treasures hidden on the island which can save his daughter from a mysterious deadly illness. Eventually, he teams up and falls in love with Audrey as they tag-team kung fu their way past guardians of the treasures. Also thrown in the mix is a Wu Dang Mountain resident monk (played by the very talented and underrated Siu-Wong Fan of Ip Man and Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky fame) who looks and acts like a Chinese version of Karl Urban. He is unexpectedly chosen by the old Taoist monk to represent the Wu Dang Mountain people in the martial arts competition. Chinese Karl Urban monk, a gentle soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly, is surprised that he has to fight in the competition especially since he has sworn against violence. But once he meets Indiana’s teenage daughter and inappropriately falls in love with her – not in a “Leon/Mathilda father-daughter relationship” way but more like in a “creepy adult man with a 15-year old girl” way – she inspires him to fight again.
Not only are all the actors in this film a joy to watch, but the filmmakers involved made a totally entertaining popcorn flick. Even though director Patrick Leung has a resume of forgettable directed flicks, his involvement as an assistant director/writer in other films is much more impressive – he’s lend his hand in Hong Kong classics such as Red Cliff, Once a Thief, The Killer, and Bullet in the Head. The sign of a caring filmmaker hires good help, which is why the main star in Wu Dang is action choreographer Corey Yuen who has given audiences creative and memorable action in The Transporter, DOA, X-Men, The Legend 1 & 2, Heart of a Dragon, and Above the Law, to name a few. Wu Dang should give martial arts fans what they expect – fight scenes where the actors can show off the stunt choreography without being thrown off by quick cuts or blurry headache-inducing camerawork. I don’t mind my Hong Kong action movie with wire work as long as it’s done smoothly and used in a creative way as in Wu Dang. I also liked that CGI-enhanced special effect scenes were kept at a minimum since this film does have a fantastical element. It’s all about the balance and Wu Dang maintains a well-balanced mix of story, action, special effects, good acting which allows the film to flow smoothly from beginning to end.
The 1080p 2.35:1 presentation is gorgeous as expected from Well Go USA. While not obvious reference quality, I find it hard to find any flaws with the video. Interiors and exteriors exhibit beautiful colors all around and there are terrific levels of depth and detail. Shadows and fleshtones look quite accurate. The stylish costumes worn by Zhao, Yang, and Xu really pop out with detail and sharpness. The few CGI-enhanced scenes slightly seem separated from the real, but most effects blend smoothly into the scenes and look great on Blu-ray.
The Mandarin DTS-HD 5.1 definitely offers an astounding audio experience. The sound is clear and crisp with surrounds called in to reinforce the plentiful action scenes and atmospheric effects. The audio highlight on this disc is when Zhao’s character has to fight a group of fairy-like ladies on the lake – the audio mix and effects combined here become very organic and intense! This scene reminded me of the Jet Li vs. Donnie Yen fight scene at the beginning of Yimou Zhang’s Hero. Nature plays a big factor in both these scenes and are those type of scenes which you watch over and over mainly due to the sound mix. Besides dialogue being perfectly clear and mixed well with action scenes, all the thunks, bumps, wacks, and ka-ching sounds are amplified with heart-pounding bass. Overall, the audio is almost reference material.
Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and English subtitles are only included.
Extras are slim here – just your usual Behind the Scenes featurette and movie trailers. At least the Blu-ray coming with a slipcover with nice cover art but should have also included the hot Mini Yang on the cover.
– Behind the Scenes
– Movie trailer and trailers for other Well Go USA releases
Wu Dang won’t win any awards nor will be remembered in the long run, but I was totally entertained for what it was – a popcorn film done right. Just like so many old Shaw Brothers films and Hong Kong films of the 1990s, there were plenty of these kinds of fun action films that breezed right by our eyes without being rmembered as Hong Kong action film classics.
With Corey Yuen in charge of the creative action – from a necklace-whipping bombshell to a monk mastering a “sleep-fu” fighting style – I don’t know how anyone could be bored with Wu Dang for those seeking out a new martial arts flick. I definitely recommend checking out this film on Blu!