J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Wu Dang: The Martial Arts Treasure Hunt is On

Every five hundred years or so, a prestigious martial arts tournament is held at the Taoist monastery on Wu Dang Mountain.  It might sound like the perfect set up for a kung fu movie, but it is really just a pretext to allow its sponsor to hunt for seven mystical treasures hidden throughout the exotic environs.  Call it distraction by Kumite.  Prof. Tang Yunlong might be an adventurer, but he has a pressing need for the mythic treasures in former John Woo protégé Patrick Leung’s Wu Dang (trailer here), which Well Go USA releases today on DVD, Blu-ray, and various digital platform.

A western dressing, modern man, Prof. Tang could be considered Republican China’s Indiana Jones, except for his daughter Tang Ning, whom he has schooled in the martial arts.  He does not need the treasures for financial reasons.  Instead, he hopes their storied power can cure the rare genetic disease his daughter inherited from her late mother.

Tian Xin is also after the treasures, or at least one of them.  An Excalibur-like sword forged from a meteorite once belonged to her father and she is honor-bound to reclaim it.  Prof. Tang will not need it for long, so he is happy to make a deal with her (especially since she is played by Mi Yang).  Unfortunately, there are others after the treasures, whose motives are far less noble.

Action choreographer Corey Yuen (director of the original Transporter) really ups the ante with some spectacular fight scenes.  There are some nifty matches staged for the tournament’s ring, picturesquely perched precariously on the edge the mountaintop.  Yet, when Prof. Tang and Tian Xin start fighting together, in a scorching sort of martial arts tango, Wu Dang really puts films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith to shame.  These are sequences genre fans will immediately re-watch and enjoy just as much a second and third time around.

Stepping out for the first time as the co-lead of a martial arts film, Yang is a fantastic as Tian Xin.  Deceptively flirty and all kinds of lethal, she puts her stamp on the action heroine role.  In the rare event a Hollywood actress takes on such a part, it is hyped to the heavens as something extraordinary, but every HK and Mainland star of note eventually gets an opportunity to flex their kung fu chops.  That’s one of the reasons we like these movies.

Likewise, as Tang Ning, Jiao (Josie) Hu kicks butt pretty darn well too, at the youthful age of thirteen.  So endearing in Tom Shu-yu Lin’s Starry Starry Night, she is definitely a movie star of the future.  While she looks somewhat older than her limited years, the admittedly chaste pseudo-romantic relationship between her and Louis Fan’s doofus novice still seems a bit inappropriate.  However, the father-daughter rapport between her and Wenzhuo (Vincent) Zhao’s Prof. Tang is surprisingly touching.  A veteran of the Once Upon a Time in China franchise, Zhao knows how to conduct himself in a fight scene and also develops real chemistry with effervescent Yang.

Granted, Wu Dang ends in a smorgasbord of New Agey sentimentality, but that happens sometimes.  Yuen’s fight choreography and the two appealing central relationships more than compensate.  A kung fu film more or less suitable for family viewing, Wu Dang will still thoroughly satisfy genre connoisseurs.  Recommended with surprising affection, it is now available in home viewing formats from Well Go USA.

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