By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Season 1 of Wu Assassins was released on Aug. 8 on Netflix. This is another Gold Open TV series, so I definitely had to check out this all-star Asian cast. I successfully binge watched all 10 episodes in order to write you this review.
What better place to have a story about Chinese triads than present day San Francisco’s Chinatown? Kai Jin (Iko Uwais) plays a Indonesian-Chinese chef who is trying to make ends meet at his childhood friend’s restaurant owned by Jenny Wah (Li Jun Li). Suddenly, Kai Jin is chosen by Ying Ying (Celia Au) to be the next Wu Assassin and imbued with the power of a thousand monks. There are brief glimpses of the super monk (Mark Dacascos) when the Wu Assassin is fighting. Ying transports Kai to the spirit realm, where she helps train Kai and explains the five Wu Warlocks based on the five elements: fire, water, earth, metal, and wood.
Here is a brief introduction of everyone else in Wu Assassins without spoilers. The Chinese triad leader and Kai’s adoptive father, Uncle Six (Byron Mann), is constantly trying to help Kai, but Kai is not interested in receiving any assistance from the triad leader. Zan (JuJu Chan) plays Uncle Six’s trusted and badass bodyguard. A rival Scottish gang led by Alec McCullough (Tommy Flanagan) is interested in Uncle Six’s territory. An undercover cop, Christine ‘C.G.’ Gavin (Katheryn Winnick), is sent to infiltrate the Chinese triad. Tommy Wah ( Lawrence Kao) is Jenny’s brother, a struggling drug addict and the troublemaker of the group. Lu Xin Lee (Lewis Tan) runs an illegal car chop shop. Finally, there is Mr. Young (Tzi Ma), Kai’s next-door neighbor, who runs a produce and herb shop. Now throw in fighting and drama, and you have the Wu Assassins.
Let’s start with the good. Iko Uwais, who stars in “Triple Threat,” “The Raid” series, “Stuber,” and even “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” is right at home kicking butt and taking names. The martial arts is well choreographed and there is plenty of it. In fact, there are more people in Wu Assassins proficient in street fighting than not. Each fight is a combination of special effects, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat. I could relate to some of the stories regarding appeasing parents and respecting elders.
However, the whole series is dogged with action cliches and some boring drama. Wu Assassins should have taken some pages out of the 2012 Sleeping Dogs (SD), a video game about a cop’s undercover work in a triad in Hong Kong. In SD, there a number of Asian voice actors like Kelly Hu, Tzi Ma, James Hong, Lucy Liu, and even Emma Stone, which keeps the game exciting.
I found the combat repetitive after a while as villains were not getting any smarter. The Wu Warlocks all have special abilities, but none of it is done very creatively. Maybe I am spoiled by Marvel movies in the last 10 years, but the Fire Wu just throws fireballs and uses a fire whip. If I was the Fire Wu, I would be bouncing my fireballs on the ground and shouting, “Yo! I am Super Mario!” Sadly, the dialogue is never that entertaining and found it mostly unmemorable. I would have loved some more witty remarks or jokes to lighten up the mood. The ending was very anti-climatic. With so much great content already on Netflix, I suggest passing on Wu Assassins.
Wu Assassins is currently playing on Netflix.
John can be reached at email@example.com.