Lionsgate // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 5th, 2010
The art of combat has a new generation.
Jackie Chan produces this kung-fu import featuring kids applying their exhibition martial arts to kidnapping plots.
Wushu follows the exploits of a group of young friends who enroll in an elite kung fu school, grow up best friends, enter various Wushu tournaments and eventually become embroiled in a sinister plot involving a former student who's adopted a goatee and a hairdo reflecting the depths of evil that is currently festering in his dark heart.
Not to worry though, our adolescent heroes have an ace up their sleeve. Their teacher (Sammo Hung) is large and jolly and lethal, and if the scenario calls for it he will unleash Hell.
Wushu is bit schizophrenic. It starts out very light-hearted and chummy, even borderline comic; then it morphs into a something more akin to The Karate Kid; and finally, it becomes a full-throated action movie. A genre rollercoaster ride for sure, and normally this all-over-the-map approach could prove harmful to a film's prospects -- especially an action movie from overseas that most viewers are just hoping will provide some hefty fisticuffs -- but Wushu manages to escape largely unscathed.
I'm not prepared to offer it a full-on recommendation, though. The multiple genre personality disorder is likely to leave good-sized portions of demographics cold. For the hard-core chopsocky fans? Yeah, there's some decent kung-fu grist to chew on at the end, but to get to that point you're going to have to power through a whole lot of milquetoast coming-of-age twaddle. Or perhaps you're the opposite, and want to enjoy a low-calorie round of kid-friendly hand-to-hand shenanigans. There is lots of it front-loaded, goofy soundtrack and foppish comic relief sidekick and all, and then it gets all serious with the kidnapping plots and such.
There is a third group of people, though: Sammo Hung fans! Oh yes, the portly punch-master is money, embodying the Mr. Miyagi role in the first part of the film as the kids' teacher; then transitioning to the rotund, yet lethal dominator of bad guys we all know and love in the end. In fact, he's the one given the coveted responsibility of squaring off with the Final Bad Guy; a fight, alas, that does not end memorably.
Actually, the whole thing doesn't end memorably. Once the high drama of the showdown with the kidnapper and the evil pupil wraps up there's another ten minutes of Wushu competition, a jarring juxtaposition to what came before (the kidnappers were burying some kid alive like five minutes ago!)
The DVD consists of a clean 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital (English and Mandarin), a standard-issue a behind-the-scenes featurette and footage from the Cannes premiere.
Some of these kids did actually have moves and wire assistance was, thankfully, limited.
Wushu might appeal to those looking for a lighter kung-fu affair, but I was left wanting.
Consider the leg swept.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Mandarin)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13