Jackie Chan's name may be plastered all over the packaging for this Lionsgate import made in Hong Kong, but he's nowhere to be seen in the movie itself (even if he does pop up in the extras for a few minutes). The world's biggest action star served as an executive producer and helped to promote the movie, but doesn't appear to have done much else. So yeah, this isn't a Jackie Chan movie, even if Lionsgate would probably like you to think it was. That said, hey, it's got Sammo Hung, and that's never a bad thing.
When the film, begins we meet two brothers, Li Yi (Wenjie Weng) and Li Er (Yachao Wang), who are being enrolled in a well regarded martial arts school at the insistence of their father, the school's teacher, who has worked very hard to raise them as a single parent, Li Hui (Sammo Hung). Once they're settled in, they meet some of their fellow students - Fong Fong (Fei Weng), Xiao Zhang (Yongchen Liu) and Yang Yauwu (Fengchao Liu). They all become quite friendly with each other and over the course of their studies form a very strong bond together. As their training evolves, they decide to form a fighting team and call themselves the Jin Wu Men.
Soon after they form their team, the start preparing for a competition in which they'll compete for spots on the Provincial Team but a former student named Ke Le (Nan Tie), who was expelled from the school for seriously injuring another student in a fight, shows up and causes trouble. When Li Yi, Li Hui and Yang Yauwu find out that Ke Le is running a kidnapping ring, they realize that stopping him is what matters the most and they set out to bring him to justice.
Directed by Anthony Szeto, the man who previously helmed Dragon Blade, this film is obviously geared towards the family market. There isn't a lot of hand to hand combat sequences here and most of the martial arts on display, as impressive as it is, is performed by a single actor. A lot of emphasis is put on training and practice, and so a lot of the footage in the movie reflects that. There is an amazing scene with Sammo Hung squaring down with the lead villain towards the end of the film that is absolutely worthwhile and quite intense, but much of what lead up to that may seem stale or unimpressive to those looking for a typical slam-bang action film.
With that said, when taken as a family film, Wushu is pretty good. With Sammo being the only professional actor in the cast (everyone else is an actual martial arts student) the emphasis here is on the meaning of martial arts. Sammo gives a speech early on in the movie in which he explains that the ethics and morals of the training the kids are going to receive are what matters the most and there's a good, positive message here that'll probably serve as inspiration to those who are looking for it. Sammo's performance is a strong one, he handles the more dramatic aspects of the film quite well, showing good range and playing the sympathetic father and teacher role very well. He also proves that he's still a formidable combatant as well with his scene towards the end of the film.
From a technical stand point the movie is quite well put together. It's well shot, makes use of some good camerawork and interesting split screen effects. The film moves along at a good pace and unlike so many modern action films which cut-cut-cut as fast as they can, this one has a lot of longer, more fluid shots that prove that these performers have nothing to hide in terms of ability. There are no obvious stunt doubles and all of the action in the movie appears to have been done without any CGI effects work. It may work with the same level of intensity as whatever your favorite martial arts film might be, but if you're looking for some good entertainment you can watch with your kids, this one fits the bill quite nicely.
Wushu premieres on DVD in a nice 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, properly flagged for progressive scan playback. Color reproduction is strong, quite natural, while skin tones look very lifelike. Some edge enhancement and digital noise reduction appears to have been applied here and there, resulting in some facial detail evaporating, but this isn't a constant problem so much as it is a sporadic one. Generally detail is strong and black levels deep. There are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts to note, nor are there any issues with print damage to complain about. All in all, the movie looks quite good on this DVD from Lionsgate.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are offered up in the film's native Mandarin and dubbed into English, with optional subtitles provided in English and Spanish. The sound quality of the English dub is fine but it doesn't really fit the movie very well (whoever dubbed Sammo Hung's character sounds like Principal Skinner from The Simpsons!), making the Mandarin track preferable. This is a fairly aggressive track with some good surround activity and moderately impressive bass response. The levels are well balanced and surround activity is distinct and well placed. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about
Lionsgate has supplied a few decent extra features for this release, starting with a Behind The Scenes (17:44) documentary. In addition to some really impressive behind the scenes footage showing how some of the stunts and hand to hand combat scenes were done, there are some interviews with some of the cast and crew members including a bunch of the kids who show up in the film. Some of the actors talk about the trials and tribulations of a shoot like this, more than one discussing their injuries, but all involved seem pretty happy to have been a part of the project. Also included is the Wusho World Premiere At Cannes Featuring Jackie Chan (7:28) segment. Cha speaks in subtitled Chinese about the film, about making the picture, the story that it tells, and more while some of the actors featured in the movie and after they speak, we see Chan introduce some of the cast members to an audience. Both of these featurettes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other unrelated Lionsgate properties, menus and chapter selection.
Obviously geared towards a younger audience despite the intense looking image on the front cover (which doesn't really do a good job of representing the movie), this family friendly martial arts film is pretty decent. If you need your action films to be grim and gritty then this won't do it for you but the inspirational message the film carries is a good one and it's thankfully not delivered as heavy handedly as it could have been. Lionsgate's DVD looks and sounds pretty good and it includes some decent extras as well, even if they are a bit on the promotional side. Wushu might not be a modern classic, but it's worth a watch. Recommended for Sammo Hung diehards, a solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.