Somewhere, high up on the top of Wu Dang mountain, there's a rumor of seven ancient treasures that could offer immense wealth to the person smart enough to find them and tough enough to brave the martial artists guarding it. In the 1930's, two treasure hunters--a western-educated expert on antiquities and a thief--compete and ultimately team up to find the prize in director Patrick Lueng's "Wu Dang."
What could have been a romantic martial arts comedy gets weighed down by dull melodrama and some scattershot storytelling, not at all helped by fights that just aren't that well-executed.
Vincent Zhao ("True Legend," "The Blade") and Yang Mi ("Painted Skin: The Resurrection") star as rival treasure hunters Professor Tang Yunlong and Tian Xin respectively. Both are using the legendary martial arts tournament as a cover for their activities--Tang as a sponsor with his 13-year-old daughter competing, to boot--and Tian as a fighter. Under the watchful eye of the tournament officials, with angry mobsters on the professor's heels, the duo join forces to find a sword that will restore her legacy and join the remaining treasures for a reason very dear to the professor (this is where the melodrama kicks in). Plus, there's a sidestory about one of a humble monk entering the tournament in order to bring honor to his monastery, but that whole tournament storyline is doesn't really have any kind of trajectory to it and I'd be tempted to tell you to ignore it entirely.
However, then you'd miss 15-year-old kicking butt as the professor's daughter--her character is the brightest spot in the movie, and the plucky actress makes me wish "Wu Dang" was either strictly about her fighting it out in the tournament or better still, putting her in the middle of the treasure hunting adventure. For that matter, I would gladly pay money to see "Tang Ning: 30's Girl Kung Fu Adventurer" series of movies.
But she's really about the only thing I can recommend. The chaste flirtation between leads Zhao and Yang is non-existent (and she was terrific in "Painted Skin"), and the treasure hunt itself seems distressingly low-stakes and low-difficulty for most of "Wu Dang's" running time. Guards are handily dispatched, and really, the only time the characters are made to sweat is during a magic-powered final fight with the baddie. It's just weird that neither character really needs each other for the plot to work, and it's bizarre that you could pull either actor out of the story and it would still function (as much as it does).
As for the fights, "Transporter" director Corey Yuen does what he can but I'm not sure why every matchup feels so minimum energy--I think it has to do with the sound, perhaps and the feeling that none of the blows are really ever making contact. The wire work is your usual mix of gravity-defying nonsense, but it's not the kind of wild, flung like a missile nonsense that I'm partial to.
"Wu Dang" is just kind of there. It's never bad enough to be offensive, but there's not a single "wow" moment involving the lead characters who feel just stamped into the story.
Special features and presentation
The image quality here is fine if not spectacular, owing in part to the tendency of some recent big budget martial arts releases to light everything like it's 3 in the afternoon, always. As a result, much of "Wu Dang" plays a though there's a sheer over everything--actors, sets, whatever, during night scenes (especially during night scenes). The sound's a mixed bag as well. The Mandarin 5.1 track pushes the music hard but everything else sounds a little recessed.
I should also make note of some imperfect subtitling--we're not talking terrible, 90's VHS bad, but there were at least two instances where words were missing letters altogether. It passes by so quickly you might not notice, but Wellgo could do well to put the screws to their subtitling team next time out.
As they will do, Wellgo has included a behind-the-scenes doc featuring the cast and director talking about the production of "Wu Dang" (31:12, SD). It's hard not to be won over by their enthusiasm, but yet again, it's a bummer that although the doc is subbed, the captions identifying each speaker isn't.
"Wu Dang" is available on DVD and Blu-ray now from Wellgo USA.