Wu Dang


Dec 1, 2012

Wu Dang (2012)
Director: Patrick Leung
Writers: Chan Khan
Starring: Vincent Zhao, Mini Yang, Xu Jiao, and Fan Siu-Wong.

The Plot: Recently, renowned professor Tang (Vincent Zhao) has set out for a small village located in the midst of Wu Dang mountain. Once there, Tang and his young daughter Tangning (Xu Jiao), find an ancient sword that accompanies a hidden treasure map. This discovery coincides with an ancient tradition that sees a battle between taoist martial artists every 500 years. With 500 years of history on the line, this contest seems a suitable venture for handing out this recently discovered treasure map. The contest, as expected, draws the very finest competitors in all of China, and it has also brought out a competitor who claims that the sword, which is the first of the seven treasures found on the treasure map, rightfully belongs to her people. She (Tianxin, played by Mini Yang), along with Professor Tang, both have their eyes on the treasures; however, their reasons for attaining these treasures are vastly different.

The Review
I don’t know where you’ve been over the past twenty years, but just in case you weren’t aware, the Wu Dang clan ain’t nothing to mess with. With that obligatory joke out of the way, today I am not discussing RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, nor am I talking about the M E T H O D Man. Instead, today we focus on a very recent Chinese spectacle starring Vincent Zhao. Indeed, we ain’t talking about the WU TANG clan, we’re talking about Professor TANG and his adventures on Wu Dang mountain. Released around the same time as the previously reviewed Painted Skin: The Resurrection, it is unlikely that Wu Dang faired quite as well at the box office – but as a fan of the genre, it feels spectacular to watch a traditional martial arts film within these modern times. Chinese cinema has become somewhat bloated in recent years, and you can read my complaints about this in several of my recent reviews, but there are still interesting movies being made. Wu Dang, as the title might somewhat hint to you, is a much more traditional take on the martial arts genre. I couldn’t be happier for this.

Vincent Zhao is forever known to me as the young man that was tasked with taking over the Once Upon a Time in China series after Jet Li left. Although he has done numerous things since then, it was the first time I ever took note of him as an actor and I will always instinctively picture him as Wong Fei Hung. Despite my mind attempting to typecast him, the mere fact that he made such a strong impression in that role on speaks to Zhao’s talents and charisma. After longer than a decade since Zhao left the Wong Fei-Hung role, the actor is still a presence within Chinese cinema. I would argue that Wu Dang also shows that he is still very capable when it comes to stealing the show. The movie shows Zhao, who has matured very well, still looking remarkably young and seemingly more physical than ever before. Granted, he is still being supported by wires in mid-air and dancing around at impossible heights, but the ferocity of his performance is certainly noteworthy.

The film has a stylistic edge to it that certainly sets it apart. The fashion presented in the film is what one might expect from a steampunk-esque view of early industrial China. Vincent Zhao’s costume, along with the one worn by his onscreen daughter Xu Jiao, is pretty spectacular. A combination of classical Indiana Jones-style adventurer’s leather along with a very modern appreciation for that same material. If Indiana Jones were to be designed for a modern marketplace, with a designer who had never seen the original films, I believe his outfit would look something like this. Sure, these costumes do not properly reflect the era that this movie is set within, but they more than do their job in elevating the stylistic edge that the movie hopes to achieve.

The leverage that Wu Dang will have with viewers is very dependent on what the audience is expecting. The action found in Wu Dang is both similar to the nineties era of Hong Kong kung fu cinema as well as the older traditional kung fu titles of the seventies. That is great for an audience longing for something that satiates their hunger for tradition, but if audiences are looking for something new and groundbreaking: The Raid: Redemption this is not. So, without a doubt, it becomes hard to classify Wu Dang as essential viewing. Yet, it does stand out as one of the best kung fu films that I have seen from the past few years. With almost no poor CGI to speak of, and spectacular fight scenes choreographed by the always excellent Corey Yuen, Wu Dang is a very fun and creative kung fu film that has flirtations with the adventure genre.

The Conclusion
With action that is perfectly timed and a storyline that is ridiculously entertaining, Wu Dang is a film that is ripe for revisiting. Ultimately, I give it a four out of five. It may not be “great,” but boy is it a lot of fun! Grab this one on bluray December 7th from the fine folks at Well Go USA.

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