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As a film which is actually about martial arts, it is hard to fault the pedigree of “Wushu – The Young Generation”. Aimed at introducing a new and highly talented bunch of experts, the film also stars the legendary Sammo Hung, and was produced by none other than Jackie Chan. It was directed by Antony Szeto, previously responsible for the fantasy animation “Dragonblade”, and who also provides the action choreography. Concentrating on the positive aspects of wushu and its role as a competition sport, the film was unsurprisingly officially endorsed by the Director General of the State General Administration of Sport, the top governing sports body in China. Thankfully, this doesn’t translate into the film being a too patriotic or flag waving affair, with plenty of action and an upbeat focus on the theme of friendship.
The film begins as two young boys called Li Yi (Wang Wen Jie) and Li Er (Wang Ya Chao) are taken by their wushu teacher father Li Hui (Sammo Hung) to their new wushu school. Growing up, they form a club which they call Jin Wu Men with new friends Xiao Zhang (Shi Yao),Yang Yaowu (Liu Feng Chao) and the equally talented young female fighter Fong Fong (Liu Xin). The five dedicate themselves to learning martial arts, supporting each other and generally being righteous, competing for places in the regional wushu trials. Trouble rears its ugly head when an evil ex-wushu student called He Le (Tie Nan) snatches a couple of young students as part of a child kidnapping scheme and the gang have to put their skills to the test to bring him to justice.
In terms of martial arts, “Wushu – The Young Generation” certainly delivers, with most of the running time being taken up with the young cast showing off their considerable skills. Although initially this is mainly through competition scenes, once the admittedly rather tangential child kidnapping subplot is introduced (if not actually explained), there are a number of more traditional fights and brawls. All of the actors get several chances to demonstrate their abilities, and all would seem to have the moves and speed to guarantee them careers in the industry, in particular Wang Wen Jie and Wang Ya Chao, both of whom are at times reminiscent of a young Jet Li. Fans will be pleased to hear that Sammo does get in on the action himself, though not until the final act, perhaps not wanting to steal the thunder from his young charges. Szeto’s direction is solid, and although he does go a bit overboard with the slow motion and split screen work, he handles the fight scenes well enough and adds a winning sense of energy to the proceedings.
Aside from the martial arts, the film is all about friendship and learning to do what is right and noble. As messages go, there are worse, though all the smiling and enthusiasm does get a little bit too much at times, with none of the students ever showing much in the way of real humanity. Morally the film is painted in broad strokes of black and white, with the He Le being a comprehensively nasty piece of work solely for the purpose of providing a villain – albeit an incredibly incompetent one who freely admits his schemes and makes no effort whatsoever to cover his tracks. Still, all of this, along with the clichés which make up the plot are only to be expected, and do not prevent the film from being fun and likeable. The cast are generally charismatic, and they do manage to convey a genuine sense of camaraderie which helps to distract from the film’s narrative weaknesses. As such, the film does hold the attention, even if at times it does so by being inadvertently amusing.
Thanks to this, and more importantly to the impressive amount of martial arts action, “Wushu – The Young Generation” makes for entertaining, if undemanding viewing and should be enjoyed by genre fans or anyone interested in seeing who might very well be the stars of the future. It’s always good to see Sammo on screen, and the film would probably stand as a must-see solely due to the fact that it gives him a chance to show that he can still hold his own against the younger generation.
Antony Szeto (director) / Dennis Chan, Ho Leung Lau (screenplay)
CAST: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo … Li Hui
Fengchao Liu … Yang Yauwu
Wenjie Wang … Li Yi
Faye Wong … Fang Fang
Yongchen Liu … Xiao Zhang
Yachao Wang … Li Er
Junjie Mao … Xiao Yi