Director – John Laing, Teleplay – Vince Cheung, Lydia Look, Ben Montanio & P. Mark Seabrooks, Producer – Janine Dickins, Photography – Kevin Riley, Music – Nathan Wang, Visual Effects Supervisor – George Port, Visual Effects – PRPVFX Ltd, Production Design – Ralph Davies. Production Company – Disney Channel/Rubicon Films, Ltd./Regan Jon Productions
Brenda Song (Wendy Wu), Shin Koyamada (Shen), Justin Chon (Peter Wu), Tsai Chin (Grandma), Ellen Woglom (Jessica Dawson), Andy Fischer Price (Austin), Susan Chuang (Nina Wu), Michael David Cheng (Kenny Wu), James Gaylyn (Mr Medina), Anna Hutchinson (Lisa), Sally Martin (Tory), Paul A. Willis (Principal Nunan)
Wendy Wu is one of the most popular girls at high school in Fair Springs, California. She and her rival Jessica Dawson are competing to be voted Homecoming Queen. Wendy is then approached by Shen, a monk who has travelled from the Gen Je monastery in China to tell her that she is the reincarnation of a mighty warrior who is destined to stand up to fight against the evil force of Yan Lo. Wendy thinks he is crazy. Shen continues to follow her, insisting that she wear a medallion of protection. Meanwhile, the force of Yan Lo emerges from a box sent to the museum where Wendy’s mother works and possesses various people as it comes after Wendy. Eventually, Wendy accepts kung fu training under Shen’s tuition, but he has difficulty getting her to forsake her trendy teenage ways and focus on Eastern disciplines. Meanwhile, Wendy has introduced Shen to the school as her cousin. However, after she gives Shen a makeover, she finds herself attracted to him.
Wendy Wu – presumably no relation to the British punk singer of the 1980s – was a movie made for the Disney Channel. It feels exactly like a generic attempt to conduct a variant on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) by way of Clueless (1995). Or perhaps more closely a Wu Xia variation on the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – substitute wire fu martial arts for vampires and the plots of Wendy Wu and the Buffy movie would be almost identical. It is certainly hard to think of a more lame idea for a film.
The importation of Chinese martial disciplines amounts to only a novelty ethnic variation on the usual high school drama. The film’s knowledge of Chinese culture verges on ethnic apathy. As Wendy’s father (Michael David Cheng) says: “Everyone Wang Chung time is about as cultural as we got,” while Shin Koyamada admits to drawing inspiration from Jackie Chan movies when it comes to dispensing his epithets of wisdom. You can imagine the scriptwriters sitting down and wracked their brains for how many Chinese-related concepts they could come up with and how to spin them for the teenage high school genre. Thus Brenda Song goes through a montage of training scenes where she turns martial arts moves into dance routines, uses Tai Chi moves to put junk food in her mouth and answers her cellphone while on the balancing bars. The Buddhist monk come to teach her is conveniently cast with a handsome teenage Asian-American actor. His robes are quickly abandoned – “he went from monk to hunk” someone is heard to comment – and the role becomes little more than the sf/fantasy genre cliche of the Outsider who is changed by society and gets hip by quoting/absorbing pop culture. The nearest point of comparison to Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is surely Bulletproof Monk (2003), another culturally vulgar and utterly lame attempt to conduct a Western variation on Crouching Tiger.
The problem is also Disney Channel star Brenda Song who, though she does hold a black belt in tae kwon do in real life, plays the role like a sarcastic and self-absorbed teen airhead – it is hard to see from Song’s performance why everyone regards Wendy as the school’s Miss Popularity. Certainly, when Brenda Song is doing the requisite martial arts moves, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is energetic and does a competent run through of the basics of the wire fu genre. That said, the menace of Yan Lo is exceedingly generic and ill defined.
The film was actually shot in New Zealand. Director John Laing had made a few films in New Zealand, including the bafflingly cryptic horror film The Lost Tribe (1985), although has mostly worked as a director-for-hire in NZ-shot US television.