TL;DR – A good start to a season however it struggles to keep the momentum moving in the back half of the season.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Sometimes in life, it is the simple things that really work. For me, that is a show with a well-crafted story, strong characters, clear action, and with the fundamentals of filmmaking down pact. Now, once you have that, if you want to spice it up with some deep lore, building upon some grand mythology, I am also here for it. Today we look at a series that has the characters, has the action, and the filmmaking, but does not quite nail that story component.
So to set the scene, we open in on San Francisco and Kai Jin (Iko Uwais) who works as a chef at his friend Tommy’s (Lawrence Kao) place (well actually his friend’s sister Jenny’s (Li Jun Li) place but it is complicated). Tommy is throwing a party for his Triad friends and when something goes wrong Kai steps in to stop one of the cooks getting attacked. This means that the Triad has to respond, attacking Kai while he works in a food truck. As he is escaping he hits a woman, instead of finding someone injured on the street, he finds a woman (Celia Au) who gives him the power of 1000 monks to fight an oncoming storm. So let’s break the Wu Assassins down, using those four categories we mention in the introduction. Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
begin with, let’s look at the action, because as this is a martial arts show, the
action is at the core of it and if it fails so does the show. In that regard,
the action is one of the show’s highlights, which there is a couple of really
good fights in just about every episode. Part of what makes them so good is
that the show has cast a lot of actors with martial arts experience, so they
don’t have to use as many workarounds to make the fight scenes work. It was
also good to see that the good guys didn’t win every fight, indeed Jenny and
Zan (JuJu Chan) fight several times throughout the film with Jenny never quite
getting over Zan by herself. While there was no one sequence that sat out for
me as ‘wow’ as I have seen in say Daredevil
Wick, however, the overall quality of each of the fights was at such a
high level that I was never found wanting. I did feel that maybe Lewis Tan was
maybe a bit underutilised here, but that is my only quibble.
Generally speaking, the production of the first season was also quite good with a lot of really interesting moments. For me it was interesting that in a show full of action there was one moment that made me go ‘wow’ and it was not when a punch was being thrown. It was when they were rounding up all the bald chefs in China Town and Tommy is trying to get in good with the Triad. There is a point when he realises that he has hit rock bottom and that he is powerless, all told through a side mirror of a truck that changes focus when the door is closed and you see the power of the situation transfer from one person to another. There are all these little moments like this throughout the show that show the strength of the craftsmen behind the scenes. There were a couple of things that were more a bit hit and miss. I loved the original musical score for the show, but it also used a lot of licenced music, and while some like a Mandarin cover of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” were perfect choices a lot weren’t. Also while most of the special effects were fine for a TV show, never did the show scream more that it was filmed in Vancouver that when a really rad matte painting of the Golden Gate Bridge was inserted into the background.
area where the show really works is in it is characters, because most of them
have that complicated bond of deep friendship and the layers that build on
that. This gives our four leads instant chemistry with each other and also some
interesting distance because they have all gone their separate ways yet still
stay in each other’s lives. There is Tommy the stuff up, but as the show goes
on we see the genesis of that and also the difficulty that he has in coming
back down of the cliff. There is Jenny with all the pressure of the world on
her shoulders being in the one place she never wanted to be, managing the
family business. That scene when her parents brought out printed customer
reviews was one of that where you just wanted to turn away from the scene of
saving Jenny the embarrassment of witnessing that, which only happens because you
have created a strong character which you identify with.
One area where the show just does not land as well is in its overarching story that unfortunately felt like it had seven episodes of a plot that got stretched out to ten. The start of the show was really strong with each of the first five episodes moving at a quick pace. However, by the time we hit episode six, it feels like the show slammed on the breaks. Part of the problem is that unfortunately Alec McCullough (Tommy Flanagan) just does not play as well as the big bad like Uncle Six (Byron Mann) did. But it is also when the show’s penchant for time jumps becomes a little overboard. So gone are the moments of flirt-cooking and now time for 15-minute lore exposition dumps into a more Highlander zone. There are still strong moments like in episode eight where they finally do a time jump narrative structure that works, but they become the exception rather than the norm. It also does not help when you cast Summer Glau and then have her not really do anything.
In the end, do we recommend the first season of Wu Assassins? Overall, yes I think we do. While the story does not quite live up to the rest of the show, it is still a compelling outing and it might be worth it for the quality action scenes alone.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Wu Assassins
Directed by – Stephen Fung, Roel Reiné, Toa Fraser, Katheryn Winnick, Tony Krantz & Michael Nankin
Written by – John Wirth, Cameron Litvack, Yalun Tu, David Simkins, Julie Benson, Shawna Benson & Jessica Chou
Created by – John Wirth & Tony Krantz
Production/Distribution Companies – Flame Ventures, Nomadic Pictures & Netflix
Starring – Iko Uwais, Katheryn Winnick, Byron Mann, Lewis Tan, Tommy Flanagan, Tzi Ma, Lawrence Kao, Celia Au & Li Jun Li with Juju Chan, Cranston Johnson, Mark Dacascos, Summer Glau, Peter Chao, Trevor Lim, Josephine Ting, Khamisa Wilsher, Rhona Rees & Travis Caldwell
Episodes Covered – Drunken Watermelon, Misspent Youth, Fire Chicken, A Twisting Snake, Codladh Sámh, Gu Assassins, Legacy, Ladies’ Night, Paths Pt. 1 & Paths Pt. 2