WU DANG is not only an alternate spelling of “Wu Tang” and an excellent new exclamation to use, but also a nice period martial arts picture that just came to the region 1 DVD. The director is Patrick Leung (THE TWINS EFFECT II), the action choreographer is the great Corey Yuen.
Vincent Zhao, star of TRUE LEGEND, plays Dr. Tang Yunlong, a sort of more buttoned down Indiana Jones type of treasure hunter. In the opening he goes to appraise a legendary ancient sword, like Steven Seagal does on the weekends. He identifies it as a fraud, but the carrying case is apparently real because he breaks it open and pulls out a map to 7 treasures on the Wu Dang Mountain. Then it’s “well, gotta be going now fellas” as he tries to walk away with the map, which means he has to fight his way out. This is great because he’s wearing a pinstrip suit, a bow tie, round glasses and white gloves and he’s leaping through the air, punching through walls, crushing guys’ legs in doors.
The style of the action is very Corey Yuen – not realistic, lots of wires, but mostly no flying. A happy medium between semi-believable and total magic.
He brings his daughter Ning (Xu Jiao) to Wu Dang Mountain to compete in an invitation-only fighting tournament (shades of Yuen’s D.O.A.). They should probly be making a bigger deal about being in this because it only happens once every 500 years, seems like a pretty big honor. She’s a cute young girl of unidentifiable age and Prince Leia type hairstyle. He’s a loving father, not one of those tough love sports dads, so before each fight he tells her to quit if she can’t win. She’s good but he doesn’t want to see her get beat down.
Most of the fights take place on a cement platform right alongside a cliff, and fighters generally end up jumping onto the ledge and almost losing their balance. Despite this constant threat of horrible death there’s a surprisingly relaxed and respectful atmosphere surrounding the competition. This is an unusual thing for a fighting tournament in a movie: they’re not fighting to the death, nobody cheats, nobody is taking it too personally, and in fact there’s more than one scene where a fighter tries to let their opponent win out of empathy.
One of the competitors (Mini Yang) actually stole an invitation to get into the tournament because she needed to get onto the mountain to try to steal the sword (more D.O.A. parallels), and she ends up reluctantly teaming with Tang to sneak around the island and steal shit. The sword belongs to her family and if she can get it back it will fulfill the failed life ambitions of her father and grandfather. Tang says she can keep it if she helps him find the other treasures, and they have sort of a rivalry-turned-courtship type deal.
Then there’s this other guy Shui Heiyi (RICKY o himself Fan Siu-Wong), a dim-witted beginner monk who the great Tao Master Xei Fei (or something like that – the names aren’t on IMDb and I don’t remember them too well) has shockingly chosen to represent Wu Dang in the tournament. The young monk doesn’t want to fight because he needs to stay home to look after his sick mom. This guy is awesome because he’s introduced leaping into a somersault to save a duck from being run over by Tang’s motorcycle. Later he saves the life of a mosquito. He’s serious about this shit.
Ning and this monk meet each other because she falls off a cliff (long story) and breaks through the thatched roof of their hut. The sick mom thinks this is the greatest thing in the world because her son could marry this girl and then she’d have both of them to take care of her. I don’t know about that, Ma, but they do form a sweet friendship, and it turns out this poor girl is sick too.
That’s probly why dad lets her fight. She’s not gonna live long and this is what she wants to do. And this poor monk who literally would not hurt a fly is surrounded by dying women. Not fair.
This is not a new classic, but having looked at a few reviews it looks like I enjoyed it more than most people. There’s a scene here that’s a weird mix of action beauty and melodrama that for me was genuinely emotional. The monk and the girl have to face off in the competition, and at first they try to fight for real but it sort of turns into a dance. They’re more moving together than fighting, and they love it. A pure expression of their affection for each other through martial arts. Suddenly, without being hit, her nose starts bleeding and she grows weak, it seems like she might die. But she says she wants to keep fighting, so he takes her fists and puppets her like she’s fighting him. Sad and sweet and absurd. That’s the reason I watch these movies, in hopes of finding something as strange and beautiful as that.
But I just read that the girl is only 13, so I hope that monk’s dance didn’t symbolize more than friendship. She better just be another duck or mosquito to him and not a girlfriend. Careful there, monk. You’re a monk.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.