Wu Dang 大武當之天地密碼
Period martial arts adventure
2012, 2.35:1, colour, 100 mins
Directed by Patrick Leung (梁柏堅)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 20 July 2012, 23:15 PM (HKT)
Light action-adventure works OK as family fare but not much more than that. Asian and genre events.
Shanghai, early Republican China, 1920s. Professor Tang Yunlong (Vincent Zhao), a widowed adventurer, returns to China from the US for the first time since he left during the Qing dynasty. He is sponsoring some 500th anniversary martial arts games at a Daoist monastery in the Wudang Mountains, Hubei province, in which his teenage daughter, Tang Ning (Josie Xu), is to compete. En route to Shanghai's railway station, Yunlong stops off to advise a friend from the Manchu nobility on the purchase of a 2,000-year-old sword, reputed to have magical properties, that has long gone missing. The seller is an overseas Chinese arts trafficker, Paul Chen (Shaun Tam), who is asking US$300,000. Yunlong spots that the sword is a fake and narrowly escapes alive when Chen tries to kill him. However, Yunlong manages to keep a coded Wudang treasure map he found in the sword's box. Among those assembling for the games is Tian Xin (Mini Yang), a member of the clan who once owned the sword, who has been entrusted by her grandfather to recover it and has a copy of the same treasure map. Tian Xin and Tang Ning both win their initial heats in the games, though Yunlong tells his daughter to take things more seriously. Searching separately in the mountains one night, Yunlong and Tian Xin find a cave with some swords but are attacked by their guardian, monk Bai Long (Dennis To). Yunlong and Tian Xin agree to join forces, with her keeping the sword and him keeping the rest of the treasure. Meanwhile, Tian Ning has got to know a young monk, Shui Heyi (Louis Fan), who is being trained by the chief abbot, Xie (Henry Fong), in "sleeping kung-fu". Yunlong and Tian Xin try to decipher the secrets of the treasure map, but then Chen turns up looking for revenge.
Wu Dang 大武當之天地密碼 is a period martial arts adventure whose slim story and so-so protagonists are dwarfed by the spectacular setting of the eponymous mountains in central China. Seen as a family film aimed at young audiences, it works just fine, with good action (staged by Hong Kong veteran Corey YUEN 元奎), okay visual effects (revolving round an ancient magic sword), plain colloquial dialogue, and a plot that a five-year-old could follow. Largely made, like current release The Four 四大名捕, by Hong Kongers using Mainland money and locations, it has a similarly routine, somewhat old-fashioned feel; unlike the more ambitious The Four, it at least knows what it is and gets the job done in a professional way.
The movie is the first feature in five years by director Patrick LEUNG 梁柏堅, a onetime assistant to John WOO 吳宇森 who also did second unit work on Red Cliff 赤壁 (2008). Leung's initial action dramas, like Somebody Up There Likes Me 浪漫風暴 (1995) and Beyond Hypothermia 攝氏３２° (1996), had real personality, but during the past decade or so he's become more of a genre journeyman (La Brassiere 絕世好Ｂｒａ (2001), Demi-Haunted 魂魄唔齊 (2002), The Twins Effect II 千機變Ⅱ 花都大戰 (2004)). Wu Dang starts by looking like a lavish, period treasure-hunter adventure but soon gets strapped by the weak script by writer-producer Khan CHAN 陳汗, gaping plot holes, and lack of a budget appropriate to the production. As an adult action-drama, it doesn't really cut the mustard. What keeps it watchable are the light leading performances by throaty Mainland hottie Mini YANG 楊冪 (in her first starring role in a major movie), likeable Hong Kong actor-martial artist Louis FAN 樊少皇, 14-year-old Mainland actress Josie XU 徐嬌 (CJ7 長江７號 (2008), Starry Starry Night 星空 (2011)) and even martial arts veteran Vincent ZHAO 趙文卓, who shows some signs of a mature personality here as an early 20th-century treasure hunter.
When he does leap into action, Zhao is as reliable as ever. Yang employs the same perky offhandedness that made her bird-spirit in Painted Skin: The Resurrection 畫皮Ⅱ so enjoyable and, though never remotely believable as a martial artist, goes through the moves okay. Yuen's action sequences are the highlights, with slick use of wire-work, slo-mo and inventive choreography that actually advance the plot: in one sequence, Yang and Zhao's characters start to bond in more way than one, as do Fan and Xu's characters in another. Hong Kong veteran Lincoln LO 羅堅's score is acute, and editing by CHEUNG Ka-fai 張嘉輝 very smooth throughout. But the real star is the Unesco World Heritage Site in northwestern Hubei province, with its mountain peaks, precipitous Daoist monasteries and ethereal cloudscapes.
ContactSales: Mei Ah Entertainment, Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: China, 6 July 2012; Hong Kong, 26 Jul 2012.
Presented by China Zhong Dian Media (CN), Mei Ah Great Wall Media (Beijing) (CN), Xiao Xiang Film Group (CN), Mei Ah Film Production (HK). Produced by Mei Ah Great Wall Media (Beijing) (CN), Mei Ah Film Production (HK), in association with Xiao Xiang Film Group, Wudang Mountains Tourism Economic Special Region Administration Committee. Executive producers: Bai Jiancheng, Li Kuo-hsing, Zhou Peixue, Li Guolin. Producers: Khan Chan, David Wang.
Script: Khan Chan. Photography: Tony Cheung. Editing: Cheung Ka-fai. Music: Lincoln Lo. Art direction: Chris Wong. Art consultation: Eddy Wong. Costume design: Mabel Kwan (for Mini Yang: Wada Emi). Sound: Liu Lixin, He Wei. Action: Corey Yuen. Martial arts: Liu Fang. Visual effects: Lu Yigang. Animation: Wang Zhengren.
Cast: Vincent Zhao (Professor Tang Yunlong), Mini Yang (Tian Xin), Louis Fan (Shui Heyi), Dennis To (Bai Long), Josie Xu (Tang Ning, Yunlong's daughter), Nina Paw (Shui Heyi's paralysed mother), Henry Fong (Xie, the chief abbot), Shaun Tam (Paul Chen), Xiao Xiangfei (senior monk), Liu Jiayu (Huang, nun), Zhou Yang (Chinatown manservant).