From executive producers Jackie Chan and John Sham comes Wushu - The Young Generation, a martial arts drama starring Sammo Hung and a mess of new talent. Wushu was shot at an actual martial arts school in China using real martial arts students as its stars, meaning these actors can provide more than your staged wire-fu shenanigans. Despite lacking any depth of emotion, the young actors do provide the film's martial arts with authentic skill and showmanship. However, the story is routine, and Anthony Szeto's direction is unremarkable. Wushu may still prove interesting to some, but expectations should be kept very, very low. Sammo Hung headlines as wushu teacher Li Hui, whose two sons, Li Yi (Wang Wenjie) and Li Er (Wang Yachao) enrolled in a martial arts academy as children. They meet three other kids and form a secret club, which they call "Jin Wu Men" - a play on the name of Huo Yuan-Jia's school Jing Wu Men, with "Jin" meaning "gold" for all the gold medals they intend to win. The kids play and train to a zippy techno beat while demonstrating their positive spirit and toothy smiles. Time passes and they grow up - a detail that director Anthony Szeto relates by having the kids morph into teenagers while practicing martial arts moves. They're now older and more accomplished (Jin Wu Men's secret hideout proudly displays more than few medals), but they still retain their youthful spirit and toothy smiles. Puberty has apparently not been a problem for these kids - they're all on track to become top martial artists and righteous human beings. Obviously, China approves.
What China doesn't like: unrighteous people, and Wushu offers a very bad one to demonstrate how good citizens should not turn to the Dark Side, or something like that. Evil bastard He Le (Tie Nan) was once a wushu student, but was expelled for violence, and now deals in kidnapping and other seedy activity. He plots to kidnap a pair of Wushu-talented twins, and tricks former classmate Kuo Nan (John Zhang Jin, co-star of numerous 21st century kung-fu cheapies) into leading the twins and also Li Er into a trap. He Le's evil overacting and supreme martial arts abilities are too much for either Kuo Nan or Li Er, but not to worry - thanks to He Le's lousy crime skills (he doesn't even bother to cover his tracks), Li Hui, Li Yi, and fellow Jin Wu Men member Yang Yaowu (Liu Fengchao) are able to ride to the rescue. Can our heroes harness their wushu skills to save innocent lives? And when not fighting crime, can Li Yi and Li Er win the school competition? If you've seen at least one movie before, then you should know the answer.
Wushu is an agreeable movie thanks to its credible martial arts performers and unpretentious, though clichéd themes. The filmmakers serve up standard stuff like "try your hardest", "serve your country", and probably "eat your vegetables", though that last one isn't explicitly stated. Everything here follows the patriotic party line common to flag-waving Chinese cinema; this may be a Hong Kong co-production, but the filmmakers know where the money is. Wushu is very China-friendly, from the story and themes to the drab, working-class look. The film possesses no discernible craft, and the acting is amateurish and unsubtle. All lessons are learned in dialogue, and characters possess zero depth beyond their good or evil exteriors. As movies go, Wushu is utterly without dimension. The result is respectable, but in the same way that an inspirational church play is respectable. Basically, you can't disagree with what they're saying - you only wish they didn't hit you over the head with it.
At least there's fighting. The actors show some skill, and are not obviously wire-assisted or doubled. The wushu performances also seem authentic, though that's also where Szeto makes his biggest mistake. The actors can handle the wushu moves, but Szeto chooses to amp the drama with abundant editing, going for manufactured slow-motion drama and watered down action. Making matters worse is the overbearing soundtrack and insanely aggressive sound design, which is so intrusive as to be bothersome. Instead of watching a fluid martial arts demonstration, we end up getting the music video version - which would be fine if we were watching fake martial artists and not these supposedly real ones. Wushu is a simple film with few pretensions, such that it's easy to like for its earnest effort. But in the absence of a good story or real craft, the filmmakers should have found a way to make the action really impress. Without spectacular action, it's hard to recommend Wushu as a truly entertaining movie, much less an attempt at actual filmmaking. (Kozo 2008)