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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Wendy Wu - Homecoming Warrior
Wendy Wu - Homecoming Warrior
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // October 24, 2006
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted October 29, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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OK, let me get this straight: "Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior" is… a martial arts flick from the Disney Channel?

Well, mostly, yes. Despite its typically cornball Disney Channel plot, featherweight jokes, and girls-love-to-go-shopping themes, there's actually a serious attempt to present some fun action throughout. Disney contract player Brenda Strong ("The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," "Phil of the Future"), a tae kwon do black belt in real life, does most of her own stunts (the exceptions are obvious but surprisingly rare), while classic "wire fu" techniques allow the star to flip and fly like a pro. The whole thing wraps up with a stunt-heavy takedown of a kung fu statue monster, which director John Laing and stunt coordinator Mark Harris (who both worked on the "Power Rangers" and "Hercules" TV series, take that as you will) present with a frenzy of family-friendly action gusto.

So yes, I'm actually surprised to say it, but for a lightweight, kid-centric action movie, "Wendy Wu" does a pretty good job in the butt-kicking department.

Yet it stumbles, and all over the place, too, thanks to the decision to keep this in line with your average Disney Channel movie about a spoiled teen who learns that there are more important things in life than being popular and buying new clothes. The result, then, is something of an update on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," remixed with the Disney formula: Wendy (Strong), the most popular gal in school, is the shoo-in to win the vote for homecoming queen, but she's about to learn that she's also the descendent of a line of ancient warriors sworn to battle an evil force every ninety years. When her sworn protector, Shen (Shin Koyamada), arrives from China to train her, she must decide which is more important, saving the world or nabbing the homecoming crown.

It is exactly as bland, predictable, and uninspired as it sounds. The screenplay (credited to four writers) throws in limp jokes about Wendy's shallow boyfriend, Shen adapting to American living, teachers turning into kung fu warriors, and Wendy herself being too self-absorbed and girly to commit to her training. We also get a flat subplot involving Wendy's rival for the crown (Ellen Woglom) that plays out without the slightest effort in appearing fresh or interesting.

Most problematic with the film is the recurring theme of cultural heritage. Here, the filmmakers walk a very thin line - they should be commended for allowing the richness of the Chinese culture to shine through in the form of a plotline in which Wendy's grandmother (Tsai Chin) laments her family's increasing Americanization and the ignoring of family traditions as a result, yet they should also be mindful that the very premise of the movie risks reinforcing the stereotype that hey, all Chinese people are martial arts experts. It's a balancing act that doesn't always work - Grandma turns out to be a warrior herself - but in the quieter scenes, the ones where the family talks about mooncakes and other almost-forgotten customs, the film's good intentions manage to win out.

In fact, this is the one place the movie does rise above its Disney Channel roots; the idea of a family lamenting the loss of its heritage when joining the melting pot is far more interesting than the typical teen-queen-learns-right plotlines, and it's a theme that translate across races and cultures throughout the nation.

But neither this, the commendable action sequences, nor Strong's charming lead performance are enough to make "Wendy Wu" a keeper. The film is ultimately too mired in its own Disney Channel-ness, with all the cheesy comedy, flimsy plotting, and character cliché that comes with it.

The DVD

Video


Aside from some grain that pops up during a few nighttime shots and other overly dark scenes, the image is crisp and solid, as is expected from a brand new production. Presented in a 1.33:1 full frame format, as originally broadcast.

Audio

The Dolby 5.1 mix is full and lively, with limited but effective use of the rear channels. Optional English subtitles are included.

Extras

Don't get too worked up over the alternate ending. It's merely a brief - 39 seconds brief - deleted epilogue that's cute but entirely unnecessary.

"Homecoming Warrior in Training" (6:32) is a quick, fluffy behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into the action scenes. While it's a bit too padded with clips from the movie, there's enough fun information here for fans to enjoy a look.

"Cast Connections With Brenda Strong" (7:40) is little more than a promo piece for Disney, with Strong explaining how everyone in the movie can be seen in other Disney Channel projects, clips included.

Disney follows this with more self-promotion by including an episode of the obnoxious sitcom "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," on which Strong co-stars. The episode included is "Forever Plaid," and was apparently chosen for inclusion here because its plot is particularly Strong-heavy: her spoiled heiress character is forced to attend a strict Catholic high school when she's busted skipping class elsewhere. The series, a vehicle for those twins from "Big Daddy," is arguably the worst show currently airing on the channel, and this selected episode is particularly grating. It's presented here with chapter stops but no subtitle options.

Finally, Disney's usual assortment of previews and trailers are included, several of which automatically play when the disc first loads.

Final Thoughts

The action is slick and the family theme is sweet, but "Wendy Wu" ultimately collapses under the weight of all that obligatory Disney Channel formula. Kids may be willing to cut the film some slack, ignoring the weak, predictable spots and simply enjoy the fun stuff, but older teens and parents will grow tired of the sloppier aspects too quickly. Rent It.
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