Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior

Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (2006)

Directed by: John Laing
Action Director: Koichi Sakamoto
Starring: Brenda Song and Shin Koyamada

Make no mistake; Wendy Wu is a Disney movie. It’s cute, its set in a very fashionable high school, there’s a fair share of sugary teenage angst and an important lesson about one’s true culture is well and truly learned. A made for TV Disney movie, the film wears the House of Mouse badge firmly on its sleeve and should appeal to many a teenager. Yet, this movie has a lot to offer and it’s also a whole lot of fun. Mixing Eastern culture into a modern day American high school setting, Wendy Wu is an often laugh out loud funny culture clash comedy that just happens to feature some kick ass martial arts action.

Wendy Wu (Brenda Song) is your typical high school student who is more concerned with winning the coveted role of Homecoming Queen than taking up the mantle of defender of evil. This news is delivered to here just days before Homecoming by the somewhat mystical monk, Shen (Shin Koyamada). Having trained for many years and travelled as many miles to inform Wendy of her destiny, Shen must stay with her to make sure she carries out her kung fu training. Finding this all a little irritating and clashing with her impending Homecoming Queen triumph, Wendy is reluctant to take on such a task. However, Shen is not one to quit so easily and his persistence pays off, making Wendy realize there is more to life than just fashion and high school popularity. Accepting her destiny, Wendy begins her training and it’s just as well, as an ancient evil has found its way to Wendy’s hometown with the purpose of wiping her out. And if that’s not enough to contend with, Shen must adapt to his new surroundings, get a clue and blend in. Cue many Disney styled montages of embarrassing dancing and trying on the latest 21st Century style fashions.

Now the film may not offer anything particularly new in terms of plot or story and it’s certainly peppered with the traditional Disney heart warming messages (a good or bad thing depending on your perspective), but Wendy Wu is a cut above most TV movies. The whole cast performs admirably, never taking things too seriously and jumping into the comedy with aplomb. The two leads especially shine, creating a great chemistry between their characters. Wendy starts off as a somewhat loud and selfish character but Brenda Song infuses her with a likeable personality as the character begins to realize life doesn’t always have to be so shallow. There are also some great comedic moments that are laugh out loud funny without having to resort to crudeness or bodily function jokes. Wendy’s practicing meditation at inopportune moments (in class, at the dinner table) is a highlight.

Yet what sets this movie apart from other Disney channel flicks is the high impact martial arts sequences. Though they are not in abundance (the film is more a high school comedy), the several scenes showcasing kung fu are expertly choreographed and the action packed finale is nearly as good as anything in a big budget movie. The action is handled by Koichi Sakamoto of Alpha Stunts, who in the past have brought blistering kung fu action to films such as Drive and Guyver: Dark Hero as well as the long running Power Rangers TV series. Serving as Action Unit Director, Sakamoto has crafted several thrilling fight scenes that belie their TV budget. From the early encounter between Shen and Wendy’s brother (Justin Chon), to her training sequences, to the excellent final showdown featuring reanimated life-size terracotta warriors, the action is punchy, creative and always exciting. Though doubling is evident it never deters from the impact of the fights and the use of slow motion actually helps enhance them. Sakamoto once again proves he, and his team, are one of the best in the business for on screen action.

So if you are in the mood for something a bit lighter that will give you your action kicks as well as some laughs, then Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is a good bet. Spot on comedy, high-school setting and expert martial arts combat: not bad for a Disney TV-movie.

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