Story: After a long search Tang Yunlong (Zhao Wenzhou) has finally found a treasure map that points him the way towards the secret treasures
of the Wudang Mountains. However, he has to snitch the map from the gangster boss Chen (Shaun Tam) who afterwards hunts him. Tang goes to Wudang with his
daughter Ning (Xu Jiao), where a martial arts tournament is held, which he lets his daughter participate in as some sort of alibi. Actually, he is searching
the local temples for the treasures. But he isn't alone. One of the participants in the tournament, Tianxin (Mini Yang), is also looking for one of the
treasures, a sacred sword, that she claims to belong to her clan. The two not only clash with one another but also with the monk Bailong (Dennis To) who is
responsible for the temple. While Tang and Tianxin continue their search for the treasures, Ning becomes friends with the monk Shui Heiyi (Fan Siu-Wong),
who also participates in the tournament. Eventually, Chen's men arrive at the temple as well and show interest in the treasures. Tang's reasons for finding
the treasures are everything but selfish, though.
Review: What at first seems to be a promising mix of Indiana Jones and a return to the martial arts genre of the 90s soon turns out to be a
poorly written adventure movie with a lot of action but only little heart. And this even though there are also two love stories implemented. Luckily,
I wasn't aware beforehand that "Wu Dang" is by director Patrick Leung, his "Beyond Hypothermia" is among the best HK-movies of the 90s, otherwise disappointment
would have turned out to be even greater. At least concerning the action you actually would have expected more. Why it can't truely convince despite
some original ideas is more than anything else grounded in the fact that, as is often the case with such films, style has been put before substance.
There is one big plus the movie has and that's its location. The Wudang Mountains stand for a place of peace and self-discovery. Lots of nature all around
and temples covered in mist make you want to become a monk yourself or at least go there for your next vacation. With such a fantastic location
"Wu Dang" actually shouldn't be able to make anything wrong it would seem, and at first everything looks just fine, too. But when the search for the treasures
proves to be completely uninspired and the martial arts competition is handled like a footnote that solely serves the purpose of bringing across a small
romantic story, disillusionment gets the upper hand. The riddles surrounding the whereabouts of the treasures can't really be called as such either (or they
have gone lost in translation) and the seizure of them proves to be tiringly repetitive as well.
Still, there are a few nice ideas. In one scene Tang has to face a group of swordfighters and their swords are actually singing when whirring through the
air. The fights are also interesting in respect of involving the surroundings pretty well, especially during one scene. Tang and Tianxin have to defend against
an overwhelming group of fighters by showing teamwork whereas their moves look like dancing, whereas the implied romantic story is supposed to be strengthened by
this as well. Zhao Wenzhou is well known from "True Legend" and Dennis To from "The Legend
is Born - Ip Man" where both of them delivered outstanding fights. So why are the fights that half-baked despite Corey Yuen (
"So Close") being the choreographer? The use of a lot of slow motion and wire-fu might be responsible for that, too, but strangely enough there isn't a
specific answer to be found.
Maybe it is because the fights aren't motivated by anything. We actually don't care who wins and why. The same problem applies even the more at the end when the lives of several main characters are in danger. We really couldn't care less. As it is characteristic of movies of this kind there has been put so much emphasis on the entertainment value that the story and the elaboration of the characters has completely fallen by the wayside. This creates numerous scenes that arouse the feeling that we should be emotionally engaged by the events unfolding but we simply aren't. In the later course of the film this becomes even worse until everything is dissolved in a colorful fantasy botch-up at the end.
Concerning the integrated fantasy elements there is also another thing that doesn't really contribute to enthusiastical ovations on our part, and those are the poor special effects. Are they computergenerated or simply drawn on the film material, is the question that often pops up in your head. Also irritating is the romantic story between Ning and Heiyi, since Ning still looks like a child. And in fact, Xu Jiao has merely been thirteen during the shooting of this movie. What's the idea behind that? Probably there wasn't any as is the case with the rest of the movie. The characters are without color, at least Mini Yang serves as some eye candy, and the return to the 90s martial arts movies that we hoped for goes up in smoke in an inconsistent "fantasy hullabaloo" at the end. Yep, that probably describes it best...