August 14, 2019– Wu Assassins is the new martial arts, fantasy series that “dropped” on Netflix this month.
I enjoyed the 1st season, consisting of 10 episodes. I highly recommend it. This review, as is true with all my reviews, contains no Plot Spoilers.
Wu Assassins is set in modern day San Francisco Chinatown. The story surrounds the initiation of, Kai (played by Iko Uwais) an unlikely candidate to become the next in a line of ancient Wu Assassins. Together with his friends, Kai must obtain the essence of five natural elements and save the world from the machinations of Alec MCCullough, played masterfully by Tommy Flanagan.
The show features Iko Uwais as Kai Jin, but it is more of an ensemble cast. Iko is very likable and believable as the reluctant hero, combining elements of Tony Ja and, dare I say, Bruce Lee, in his performance.
Lewis Tan commands every scene he is in with a performance that surmounts his fine performance in AMC’s Into the Badlands. In Tan we see the unfolding of a charismatic, sexually charged, action star whose stock rises as he feels more comfortable on screen.
Katheryn Winnick, Taekwondo practitioner, stunt coordinator, and actress not only shines as CG Gavin, the complex undercover police officer, but she lends her directorial skills to the darkest and most sophisticated of the series’ episodes.
Tommy Flanagan stars as Alec McCullough, the Scottish Crime Boss and rival to the Triad’s Uncle Six, played by Byron Mann. He adds a depth to the character and manages to engage the viewer in every scene he appears.
The series also features Li Jin Li, Celia Au, Lawrence Kao, and Mark Dacascos in significant roles.
Much of the early praise for Wu Assassins came in the discussion of the fact that its cast is, largely, made up of Asian-Americans in high profile roles playing non-stereotypical characters. While I am normally blind to these nuances, reading these comments made me focus on this element of the series a little more than I would ordinarily have. It was refreshing to see good actors playing roles where the ethnicity of the characters were not rigidly defined by anything other than pure human experience. As the show proceeded the development of the characters as multi-dimensional human beings, and not simply good or evil, Asian or otherwise, made the show more watchable.
The Martial Arts
The show, quite appropriately, opens in the first moments with a highly charged martial arts action sequence and it is filled with fights throughout. Most of the fighting is distinct from the fantasy in the show. In other words we don’t see “over the top” aerial machinations or human contortions beyond the scope of our believability. We see grit and action in a well choreographed way. Most of the fighting is very believable.
One of the things I enjoyed in the viewing was that the fight sequences do not have a prevailing, dominant style that pervades them. Each of the characters seems to bring a bit of their own style of fighting to the equation, and this makes for more believability in the viewing. Episode 9’s climax offers the pinnacle of the action and martial arts fighting in the entire series. This was well done, and had me craving more of this in Season 2.
Wu Assassins has some flaws for sure. Its plot has some weakness, and there are some aspects of the underlying theme that don’t make sense. Additionally, because the acting is so strong there are a few stand-outs that are noticeably not up to the caliber of the ensemble; however, all in all this is enjoyable viewing, especially for the martial arts fan.
I highly recommend Wu Assassins and look forward to more seasons to build on the character and relationships initiated in Season 1.
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