December 10, 2012

Blu-ray Review: Wu Dang

Wu Dang is a Hong Kong martial arts fantasy/adventure set in the 1920's. It plays out like a cross between Indiana Jones and Enter the Dragon while being nowhere near as good as either one of those films. What it is, is a modestly entertaining movie that never really goes anywhere or says anything, a mash up that never comes together. It is a movie that is more cinematic time waster than it is an engrossing martial arts yarn.

The movie centers on Dr. Tang Yunlong (Vincent Zhao of True Legend). He comes across as a strait laced Indiana Jones type. We fist meet him as he goes to ascertain the authenticity of an ancient sword. In short order he finds the sword to be a fake, but hidden inside the box is what looks like a treasure map. So, he drops the bomb about the fake sword and fights his way out with the map.

The map shows the locations of the seven treasures of Wudang Mountain. Fortunately, there is a martial arts competition about to be held at the mountain monastery that only happens once every 500 years, reminiscent of the competition in Enter the Dragon, that sets up a cover for Yunlong to go to the mountain. He heads off to the competition with his daughter, Ning (Xu Jiao), who will be one of the competition fighters. Also at the competition is a mysterious woman, Xian Tin (Mini Yang), who stole her invitation to the tournament. Rounding out our main players is a local monk in training, Shui Heiyi (Fan Siu-Wong, star of cult film Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky). He lives on the mountain in the hope that his sick mother gets cured.

Anyway, the tournament starts and Yunlong and Xian Tin cross paths as the search for the treasures. Needless to say, adventures are had, fights are fought, and secrets are revealed. It certainly has its moments, but it is far from a must see tale.

Wu Dang, directed by Patrick Leung (Blade of Kings), never truly takes off and fails to take advantage of its setup. The martial arts tournament pops up a couple of times, but considering how rare an event it is, there never seems to be all that much emphasis on it. The same goes for the treasures, I never had any idea what they were or what was so special about them. There is a distinct lack of flow throughout the movie, there is little connective tissue between the various threads. One minute we are watching the young Ning and Shui talking, the next we have a fight for one of the treasures between Yunlong and the Xian Tin.

As a martial arts movie, Wu Dang is not very good. There is plenty of action, but it feels like it as been slowed down and any actual impact deleted. The fights have a certain "floaty" quality to them like everyone is moving in slow motion and pulling their punches. It is a little hard to describe, it is more like sparring than fighting. With that said, there is one fight in what looks like a library that is pretty good with some interesting moves and nice camerawork shifting focus between the various subjects. Still, it is a letdown as a martial arts movie. It doesn't work as an adventure either as there is never a clear focus as to what they are looking for and what it means.

Audio/Video. The film is presented in aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and was shot digitally using the RED camera. I have no issues with the presentation of the film. It is a good quality transfer with solid colors and strong detail levels. The biggest problem is that the solid transfer often reveals the use of sub par CG effects. So, while the transfer looks good it reveals questionable source work.

Audio is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in its original Mandarin language. Good track with strong directional effects, listen as people and things come into fame. I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Yunlong is being pursued by a bunch of swordsman with the swords whistling through the air, not realistic but sounds really cool.

Extras. The lone extra is a half hour featurette simply titled Behind the Scenes. It is a mash up of interviews, set footage, and some set building. Nothing particularly special.

Bottomline. It is too bad the movie never made up its mind what it wanted to be. It is filled with indecision and winds up a muddled mix of martial arts fantasy and low rent Indiana Jones.

Not Recommended.

Article first published as Blu-Ray Review: Wu Dang on Blogcritics.

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