Wu Dang (2012) Review

"Wu Dang" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Wu Dang" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Patrick Leung Pak Kin
Writer: Chan Khan
Producer: Chan Khan
Cast: Yang Mi, Vincent Chiu Man Chuk, Fan Siu Wong, Xu Jiao, Dennis To Yue Hong, Nina Pau Hei Ching
Running Time: 101 min.

By HKFanatic

‘Vincent Zhao and the Treasure of the Wu Dang Mountains’ – I guess that title is a bit of a mouthful, but it would have likely given viewers a better idea of what to expect from this movie than “Wu Dang.” This 2012 Chinese-language picture is a light, breezy martial arts fantasy with a bit of an Indiana Jones flavor.

Vincent Zhao, who recently made headlines by dropping out of Donnie Yen’s action movie “Special Identity,” stars in the lead role of a studied professor and treasure hunter. His latest adventure sends him to a combat tournament in the middle of the Wu Dang mountains. In a display of questionable parenting skills, Zhao tows his plucky daughter, portrayed by Xu Jiao (who played a boy in Stephen Chow’s “CJ7“), along for the ride while he contends with a rival hunter in the form of pop music and TV sensation Yang Mi.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers feel like they’re on autopilot for what should have been a spirited journey. Since the audience is kept in the dark about Vincent Zhao’s motivations for most of the movie, his character comes across as more of a grave robber than a hero we can actually root for. The plot is built around the mystery of the Wu Dang temple’s artifacts, but when the characters aren’t fighting over them the movie’s runtime is devoted to two playful romances with ridiculous age gaps.

In the story, Vincent Zhao’s daughter shares some innocent-minded flirtation with a Buddhist monk portrayed by Louis Fan of “Ricki-Oh” fame. These days Fan is pushing 39, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that Xu Jiao isn’t even legal yet. Meanwhile, the screenplay seems to suggest a 40 year-old Zhao will end up shacking up with the 20-something Yang Mi. It’s hard to sell your movie as light, inconsequential fluff when the central relationships are going to make most viewers a tad uncomfortable.

All might be forgiven if “Wu Dang” succeeded where we expect most Chinese-language action pictures to excel: the fight scenes. And to director Patrick Leung’s credit, he secured one of the best talents in the industry by assigning Corey Yuen to choreograph the action in “Wu Dang.” Sadly, he must have caught Yuen on an off day. With “Wu Dang,” we’re a long ways from Corey Yuen’s “So Close” and an even longer way from “Righting Wrongs.”

There’s nothing particularly awful about the fighting in “Wu Dang”; then again there’s nothing particularly inspired about it either. The actors are clearly assisted by wires and stand-ins – but what’s worse is that the editing is simply too fast to really appreciate the moves onscreen. The action here seems designed around what the actors could or couldn’t do, rather than in the interest of choreographing some truly show-stopping fights. It’s a bit of a shame when we know actors like Vincent Zhao and Louis Fan still have the moves even though they’re nearing middle-age.

The film’s key setpiece involves Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi teaming up to take on an angry mob in the middle of a two-tiered monastery room. This sequence was featured heavily in the trailers and it’s a moment when the movie really seems to take off. In the midst of battle, Vincent Zhao and Mini Rang even stop to engage in a slow-motion ‘dance’ of sorts – while it may not be the big romantic moment that director Patrick Leung was likely going for, it is a nice stylistic touch. “Wu Dang” could use more of this kind of playfulness, but it’s clear you can only do so much when Vincent Zhao seems incapable of projecting more than a monk-like stoicism. In other words, he’s no romantic lead – which is partially why he excels in action-driven roles like “True Legend” or “Fist Power,” instead of family-oriented adventure films like this.

Despite a tableu of relationships which are, at the very least, a bit icky, it’s safe to say that “Wu Dang” is inoffensive enough; perhaps an entry-level martial arts film for the young’uns. It’s the kind of movie that makes sense coming from the co-director of “The Twins Effect II,” though Corey Yuen has clearly displayed he’s capable of much more intricate choreography as recently as last year’s “Shaolin.” The key thing about “Wu Dang” is that, while the action lacks quality, it’s certainly there in quantity: the movie’s runtime tends to fly by as Vincent Zhao and company get into one brawl after the other. “Wu Dang” fails to make a strong impression but, on the upside, it didn’t make me feel like I’d wasted my night either.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 6/10

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4 Responses to Wu Dang (2012) Review

  1. Masterofoneinchpunch says:

    I’ll give you that the Xu Jiao and Fan Siu-wong relationship was a bit weird, but I had no issue with the Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi one. I’ve seen 40+ and 20+ relationships done all the time in Hollywood films (and HK) and the fact she is not even early 20s (she’s 26) and Zhao doesn’t really look his age.

    But I’m with you on the rating. I liked it more than some of the comments I read on kungfucinema, I could finish the film no problem, I had issues of course and I still feel overly disappointed with the majority of Mainland releases.

    With Corey Yuen: his choreography to be ultimately good-to-great has to do with the actors and their abilities he is assigned. Much easier to make Zhao look good than say Yang Mi and Xu Jiao (she was doubled quite a bit), even though I’m also in agreement on the “two-tiered monastery room.”

    • HKFanatic says:

      You’re right, the romance between Vincent and Yang isn’t much of a big deal – it’s played fairly innocently and I don’t think they even kiss once.

      I see what you’re saying about Corey. The only thing is – I remember “So Close” having some of his best fight choreography and action of the past 12 years. And Shu Qi and Zhao Wei aren’t exactly trained martial artists. I wonder if it’s just my rosy memory of that movie, though. How would you rate that film in terms of Corey Yuen’s work?

      I wish Vincent Zhao had been able to complete “Special Identity.” I still think a fight between him and Donnie coulda been one for the ages. Unfortunately they did all their fighting off camera!

      • Masterofoneinchpunch says:

        RE: So Close: I’ve been meaning to watch that film for quite a while.* Give me a few weeks (I do own it) and I’ll report back. I have a ton of 2012 films I’m trying to take care of (good film year this year though).

        I have no doubt that you can make some non-martial artists look good, especially if they are athletic (the best example usually given is Beardy aka Leung Kar-yan). But sometimes no matter what you can’t make some people look like martial artists (how about George Lazenby in Stoner).

        * On a side note: there are always “classics” (or at least well thought of films) we need to see isn’t there. This category gets larger the more genres we like :D.

  2. ladyartist says:

    What is the name of the song that plays at the end of the movie… and the beginning of the ending credits?

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