Wu Dang (2012) poster

Wu Dang (2012)


(Da Wu Dang Zhi Tian Di Mi Ma)

China/Hong Kong. 2012.


Director – Patrick Leung, Action Director – Corey Yuen, Screenplay – Chan Khan, Producers – Chan Khan & David Wang, Photography – Cheung Lung Leung, Music – Lincoln Lo, Production Design – , Art Direction – Chris Wong. Production Company – Mei Ah Entertainment/China Xian Dong Media., Ltd./Mei Ah Media (Beijing) Limited/Xiao Xiang Film Group, Inc./Mei Ah Film Production Co., Ltd..


Vincent Zhao (Professor Tang Yunlong), Yang Mi (Tianxin), Xu Jiao (Tang Ning), Louis Fan (Shui Heyi), Paw hee-ching (Shui Heyi’s Mother), Dennis To (Bailong), Henry Fong (Taoist Xie), Tam Chun-yin (Paul Chen)


The 1930s. In Kwantung, the archaeologist Professor Tang Yunlong is asked to examine the fabled Xuan Tian Sword that he has been searching for for years. He quickly determines that it is a fake but finds that its case contains a map leading to seven treasures, including the real Xuan Tian Sword, hidden on Wu Dang Mountain. He and his daughter Tang Ning set out to join a martial arts competition that is held at the Taoist monastery on Wu Dang Mountain. Also joining the competition is female competitor Tianxin who has come following a map of her own to reclaim the sword as part of her family heritage. Bailong, the abbot of the monastery, insists that the peasant Shui Heyi be the monastery’s representative in the competition even though Heyi and the others monks protest that he has no martial arts training. As the tournament gets underway, there is competition between Yunlong and Tianxin to find the treasures.

Wu Xia was a genre created in Hong Kong in the 1960s and popularised during the 1980s with wildly fantastical films such as Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983), Mr Vampire (1985) and A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Traditional Wu Xia died away at the end of the 1990s with the handover of Hong Kong back to China only to undergo a lush, dynamic revival a few years later with Chinese-backed works like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). This saw a body of new imitators such as The Banquet/Legend of the Black Scorpion (2006), Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010), Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011), The Monkey King (2014) and sequels, Zhongkui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (2015), League of Gods (2016), Sword Master (2016) and others, which reimagined the older films on epic budgets that made a virtue of lush cinematography, costuming and set dressings, while reworking the flying wirework with CGI. (For more detail see Wu Xia Cinema).

Wu Dang is an entry from Patrick Leung who has worked as an assistant director to John Woo. As director, Leung has mostly made action films and thrillers, the occasional romantic comedy. His other genre works include the horror film Demoness from Thousand Years (1993), the ghost comedy Demi-Haunted (2002), the Wu Xia The Twins Effect II (2004) and the horror film Black Night (2006). Leung’s action director (and frequent collaborator) is Corey Yuen, a celebrated martial arts supervisor and action choreographer on various Hong Kong films. Yuen has stepped up to direct or co-direct a number of times, ranging from No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) to Above the Law (1986), Ghost Renting (1991), Saviour of the Soul (1991), The Bodyguard from Beijing (1994), The New Legend of Shaolin (1994), The Enforcer (1995), The Transporter (2002) and DOA: Dead or Alive (2006).

Wu Dang is a much less fantastical entry than ‘Crouching Tiger and most of the other abovelisted Wu Xia entries. For one, it is more of a martial arts film than a fantastical swordplay film. In many ways, it could easily have been made as part of HK martial arts fad of the 1980s/90s – it belongs amid the physical wirework of these films rather than the more fantastical, CGI assisted moves of the modern Chinese equivalents. There are plentiful acrobatics with combatants exchanging blows while conducting graceful mid-air twirls and bouncing off walls. On the other hand, while it might be a film that is fantastical in the sense of bending the rules of physics, it doesn’t abandon them altogether ie. the martial arts moves are within the bounds of quasi-believability but nowhere near as fantastical as having opponents flying, dancing around ceilings or skipping off the tops of lakes etc.

Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi in Wu Dang (2012)
Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi face off against opponents

Corey Yuen delivers accomplished work with the martial arts sequences. The film’s one standout scene has Vincent Zhao facing a group of female combatants in a fight that involves them hopping between a series of bamboo rafts. There’s also the appealing silly notion of Sleeping Kung Fu, which Louis Fan learns while in his sleep. This is also one of the few Wu Xia films to be set during the modern era – the 1930s – the only other semi-modern film I can think to have done so was A Man Called Hero (1999).

On the other hand, there is never too much more to the film beyond the various martial arts scenes. The set-up of the martial tournament is a film staple ever since Enter the Dragon (1974). I am not sure if the monastery and temples on Wu Dang mountain are real places – they look as though they are – or sets; whatever the case, they look visually resplendent.

The main problem with the film is its adventure plot. It has a Plot Coupons story that involves the characters collecting various artifacts but this never amount to much. I wanted the film to find the excitement of one of the Indiana Jones films during these scenes – maybe something of the subsequent Chinese Time Raiders (2016) – but the crucial failing is that Patrick Leung never seems that interested in the adventure aspect.

Trailer here

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