Antony Szeto’s “Wushu” is an effective family-friendly martial arts film on many levels, one of the primary ones being that it is so keenly aware of the power of the martial arts as a vehicle for self-discovery and inner peace, which are especially crucial during youth. For many of us, our entry into the world of martial arts began during childhood and adolescence, the very times when we all face dilemmas of character, identity, and what we want from life. Films that can illustrate the impact martial arts can have on youth are just as vital as those following the adventures of warriors with decades of training behind them, and “Wushu” is most certainly one of them.
Sammo Hung embodies the father figure of “Wushu” both figuratively and literally in the role of Li Hui, a veteran martial artist and father of two up and coming Wushu competitors. Hung’s character is relatively sidelined in the action department until the end of the film, but his presence serves as strong mentor for the younger members of the cast. His two sons, Li Yi and Li Er, are portrayed by Wang Wenjie and Wang Yachow, respectively, and both enliven the film with their impressive wushu prowess and previous action film experience. Phoebe Wang takes on the role of their close friend Fong, while Liu Fengchao and Liu Yongchen portray their chums Yauwu and Zhang. Each of the characters face his or her own dilemma over the course of the film, embodied by their endeavors in wushu competition and its manifestation in their lives and character, paralleled alongside the exploits of the film’s villain figure Ke Le, played by Nan Tie, a former wushu champ turned human trafficker with his sights set on the most skilled fighters he can get his hands on.
Former wushu instructor Li Hui enrolls his two sons, Yi and Er, in a local wushu academy in Beijing, where the two form a strong bond with their fellow students Fong, Zhang and Yauwu. The group form themselves into a team of sorts named “Jing Wu Men” (after the famed martial arts school founded by Huo Yuanjia, and the Bruce Lee film “Fist of Fury”). As the group grows closer throughout their training, many of them face personal dilemmas both inside and outside of wushu competition. Yi struggles with a complex aerial manoeuvre mastered by his late mother, while Fong weighs the option of promising career as a stuntwoman at the cost of withdrawing from the upcoming national competition. The group as a whole are strong contenders for becoming the next national wushu team to represent China, but their competitive endeavors and personal conflicts come on a collision course with the activities of Ke Le, a bloodthirsty former wushu competitor who was expelled from the group’s school after badly injuring an opponent during a sparring match and is now involved in human trafficking.
In keeping with the family-friendly nature of the film, the action in “Wushu” largely eschews life or death scales, and for the most part operates within the tournament setting. There’s much less of a focus on training than one might expect from this type of film, which sets up the characters to be highly adept at their art early on. Yi is primarily focused on the exhibition aspect of wushu, and spends much of the film executing dazzling weapons-based forms, with his conflict being the simple act of catching a falling spear, albeit in the middle of 720 degree aerial spin. Yauwu, on the other hand, competes in the combat aspect of wushu competition called Sanda, a modern form of kickboxing derived from traditional kung fu with liberal amounts of Shuai Jiao-based throws. It’s gained worldwide fame thanks to Cung Le and other MMA fighters, and it’s well-represented in the film, making up the bulk of the combative action for the first two thirds.
The more hard-edged combat doesn’t really come into play until the third act when Ke Le and his human trafficking operation enters the equation. This is also where Sammo Hung steps out of the father-figure role in the film to take on Ke Le. It’s the only time the film ever really steps into noticeably hardcore territory, but the intensity of the action never gets so out of control as to alienate the younger viewers and family audience it’s tailor-made for. Overall, the film strikes a good balancing act between intensifying the action where necessary without forgetting what kind of movie it wants to be. Still, the film is at its strongest when the members of Jing Wu Men compete and the tournament scenes are just vibrant and delightful!
If you’re in the mood for a movie night with the whole family and you’re looking for something that’s less “The Raid” and more “The Karate Kid”, Antony Szeto’s “Wushu” is just what you’re looking for. It manages to blend an exciting tournament film with a coming-of-age story, appeals to all ages and the action is just rough enough to be impactful without going ballistic. It even manages to send a positive and uplifting message to the young and up and coming martial arts students without being overtly preachy – that the greatest opponent you will ever face in martial arts is yourself.
- Antony Szeto has been involved in many different martial arts all of his life. He had once served as an instructor of Sydney’s Choy Li Fut Academy, having studied under Chen Yong Fa, a fifth-generation descendant of Choy Li Fut founder Chan Heung. Antony also spent three years in China training in Wushu at the famed Beijing Sports University, and competed for the Australian Wushu Team at the international Wushu Competition in Hanzhou, China in 1988.
- In addition to his martial arts and directing backgrounds, Antony Szeto has worked in the capacities of both stuntman and fight choreographer.
- While filming Sammo Hung’s fight scene near the end of the film, reports surfaced on the internet that he had died, which resulted in Antony Szeto being ambushed with phone calls where he had to confirm that the rumor of Hung’s death was a hoax.
Film Rating: 7.5/10
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