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Wu Dang
IMDB Rating: 5.2/10 from votes
Release: 6 July 2012 (China) /

Wu Dang

Genre: Action
Director: Khan Chan,
Stars: , , , , , ,
Synopsis: In early Republican China, rumors were going around about the treasure in Wudang Mountain. An American conspirator took his well-trained kung fu daughter to Wudang by sponsoring a Taoist martial arts competition, to steal the treasure.

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Critic Reviews

WU DANG is a period martial arts adventure with fantasy elements, enhanced by lots of wirework and CGI, set in China in either the second or third decade of the 20th Century. There are four protagonists, all potentially interesting, played by four likable performers who do mostly adequate jobs but don't add much beyond what's written on the page. As I watched it, I kept wishing this same script had been made 20-odd years earlier, in the heyday of Hong Kong wire-fu fantasies, and starred Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen and Joey Wang and been directed by either Tsui Hark, Yuen Wo Ping or Corey Yuen (this film's action director) and used on-screen real-time special effects with nary a computer in sight. In fact, there was a similar film, DR. WAI IN THE SCRIPTURE WITH NO WORDS (1996), directed by Ching Siu-Tung, and starring Li, Rosamund Kwan, Charlie Yeung and Takeshi Kaneshiro, but its storyline was more awkwardly structured than this one, as I recall.

Professor Tang (Vincent Zhao) is some kind of expert in ancient Chinese treasures and seems modeled after a mix of Indiana Jones and the Hong Kong pulp fiction character, Wisely, featured in novels by Ni Kuang and various HK film adaptations (e.g. BURY ME HIGH and THE LEGEND OF WISELY). He and his daughter, Tang Ning (Josie Xu), travel to Wu Dang Mountain in China ostensibly to attend a martial arts tournament, but his secret mission is to locate and steal seven treasures that have some kind of magical power that he needs for a specific act of healing. Also showing up is female martial artist Tianxin (Mini Yang), representing a particular ancient family which lays claim to a magnetic sword that happens to be one of the seven treasures. She participates in the tournament but also spends her spare time helping Tang find the treasures, since they both came equipped with identical treasure maps. Various villains skulk about trying to stop them and there are lots of kung fu battles, mostly of the wire-fu variety, with combatants frequently crashing through doors, walls and furniture in these fragile ancient temples. (Where's the UNESCO World Heritage Committee when you need them?) There is a young villager from the area, Shui Heyi (Fan Siu-Wong), also participating in the tournament and he and young Tang Ning quickly become an item. Eventually, a supporting character emerges as the chief antagonist who seeks to claim the treasures and their powers for himself, leading to a special effects-filled climax.

Much of it is shot on location somewhere in China and these scenes of sprawling village walls and centuries-old clifftop temples are quite impressive. (I can't locate any info on where the film was shot.) The locations are supplemented by CGI-created backgrounds here and there. The tournament is held on a mountain-top platform and two of the main characters are almost knocked off of it in scenes that would be quite harrowing if done exactly as they looked. They were quite convincing, although the steep drop behind them was added in the computer. The wirework and stunt doubling in most of the fights for the treasure are, however, not quite as seamless. The CGI employed to show the magical powers of the treasures is often very pretty to look at but not very convincing from a dramatic standpoint, particularly when we get to the magical plant roots which take on vaguely male and female human form and "meet cute," a scene that will have hardened kung fu buffs everywhere rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. There is some urgency to the plot, given the certain fate of one of the characters if a cure isn't found, but the characters are never terribly persuasive. I didn't even fully grasp Tang's motive until I watched the Behind-the Scenes featurette that came with this DVD. I'm not sure if it's the fault of the director, the script, or the actors, but the upshot is that none of this is as compelling as it should have been. There is, however, a lot of action and it should prove satisfactory to the least demanding fans, although Corey Yuen has done much better work over the last three decades in numerous previous films.

I have mixed feelings about the performers. Neither of the two lead actresses had any martial arts experience prior to the film and it shows. Josie Xu, as Tang's teenage daughter, is cute and charming but so slight in form as to shatter our suspension of disbelief when she engages in tournament battles with much bigger opponents. Mini Yang, as Tianxin, an independent-minded femme fighter from one of China's "minority tribes," comes off best—attractive, funny, and suitably agile when wired up for the fight scenes. Miss Xu, who played Mulan as a child in the 2009 Chinese production of MULAN and Stephen Chow's son, Dicky, in the contemporary fantasy, CJ7 (2008), was 14 when she made this yet the actor who plays her budding romantic partner, Fan Siu-Wong (aka Louis Fan), was 38 at the time, a rather jarring disparity in ages. Fan is playing a much younger character, but he doesn't quite look the part. I assume he was hired for his fighting skills yet he has comparatively few fight scenes, mostly involving "sleeping kung fu," so I don't understand why a younger actor wasn't cast. Vincent Zhao, who once played Wong Fei-Hung in two of the lesser ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA entries, meets the physical requirements of Tang's character and has the requisite fighting skills, but he isn't quite forceful or charismatic enough to fully carry a film like this without some formidable co-stars, none of which can be found here.

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