Wushu (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 98 minutes
Two young brothers Li Yi (Wenjie Wang) and Li Er (Yachao Wang) are taken by their recently widowed father Li Hui (Sammo Hung) to the martial arts school where he learned and later taught the Chinese martial art discipline of Wu Shu. Having grown up and formed the Jin Wu Men gang with three other students – Yang Yauwu (Fengchao Liu), Xiao Zhang (Yongchen Liu) and Fong Fong (Phoebe Wang) – the five talented students are en route to the finals of the regional Wushu championship. When ex-student Guo Nan (Jin Zhang), now a film stuntman, pops by for a visit and enchants the group with his alternative and potential money making use for Wushu, he inadvertently draws the youngsters into the middle of a child smuggling racket, headed by another former pupil, the dangerous Ke Le (Nan Tie).
The first thing that will no doubt draw attention to this title is the legend on all of the publicity materials declaring “Executive Producer – Jackie Chan”. At the risk of bursting enough bubbles to put people off from investigating this film, a few things need to be clarified. First and foremost, Chan does not appear in this film in any shape of form; and second, he is just one of four executive producers –which basically means he fronted some of the money for this project – lessening any influence and impact his presence may have on this project. Naturally, every product needs an eye catching hook to entice the customer so one cannot entirely blame the marketing bods for exploiting which is ultimately a minor facet for maximum profit. But does having the name of arguably the biggest martial arts star of the last twenty five years attached to this film really help make it something special?
Released in Chinese cinemas just two months after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing ended, there is strong sense that the idea behind this film is to support the case for including Wushu as an Olympic sport, something the Chinese have been campaigning for earnestly for many years now, and seek international backing. This is palpable in the lightweight, family friendly script which presumably was designed to appeal to Western (read: Hollywood) audiences. Indeed, the cheeky escapades of our nine year-old heroes in the first act are accompanied by jovial Disney style comedic musical interludes to further illustrate the levity of it all. The film has also been dubbed into English (horrendously, of course) which goes some way to supporting this notion.
Evident from the onset is the fact that the story has no fixed direction and many ambitions it is trying to fulfil. Initially it appears to educate and showreel the philosophies, disciplines and skills involved in Wushu through the training our quintet embark on, before showcasing their various abilities in the competitive arena. Then there is the constant heavy handed philosophical reminders about following the right path in life. The final master the story is attempting to serve is the subplot of the child kidnapping ring. Having had one kidnapping attempt at a fairground thwarted by our Jin Wu Men heroes, the criminal group’s boss Ke Le decides to target two young twins who just happen to train at his old school. Under the guise of promising them stunt work on a film project, Ke Le cons Guo Nan to procure the twins for him but the plan hits a snag when Li Yi tags along.
Therefore the film has an uneven feeling to it as each plot point follows another with no sense of cohesion or continuity. There is no sense of one situation impacting or influencing another, so our protagonists can happily bounce from kicking the baddies’ backsides to competing in their showcases without a care in the world. Surely the fact they’ve taken time out from their training so close to this important contest to save the kidnapped twins and confront some violent criminals should have put some doubts on whether they can make it to the finals in one piece? The nearest we get is with Fong’s financial woes force her to leave the school to become a stuntwoman and Li Yi’s inability to successfully duplicate a move his mother perfected. Even though the end result is never is question the writers could have at least made the effort to add some drama.
But it’s not all bad. It needs to be explained here that most of the young cast are all highly skilled and prize winning practitioners and not natural actors – which is quite evident in some cases – but, for their first foray into the world of the thespian, they have plenty of presence and the males in particular show great charisma. Their impressive Wushu skills and abilities are best displayed in the training and competition scenes while their fight scenes are admirable and highly competent. Unfortunately even with just the one short fight in this outing, the then 56 year-old Sammo Hung shows the young pups just how it is done. Either way, it is clear this is where the films true strengths lie.
Wushu then is not a bad film but a fine example of took many cooks – or in this case, too many ideas for one film. For fans of kick ass martial arts flicks who just like to see the fists flying then there is plenty here to satiate that thirst. For anyone whose interest in martial arts runs deeper into the philosophies and mechanics of the discipline itself perhaps won’t be so rewarded as little is truly explained or revealed but the physical demonstrations are impressive and well shot. And if one craves a deep and involved storyline to become immersed in, then you truly are looking in the wrong place.
The fact that Jackie Chan’s name is attached to this and that it boasts a top star in Sammo Hung will ensure this title will do well regardless of its shortcomings. But for sheer, simple, quick fix entertainment one can do a lot worse than giving Wushu a go.
Mandarin 2.0 Dolby Digital
English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Ratings – Main feature *** /5
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