Note: the following review for Netflix’s original series Wu Assassins contains no spoilers.
Here’s a list of things that Netflix’s original martial arts series Wu Assassins reminds me of, in no particular order:
– Eating Panda Express at a Chipotle.
– Wandering through the Action section at a Hollywood Video in 2003 and not renting anything.
– Having a drunken conversation about The Jackie Chan Adventures in a strip club at 1 AM.
– A Big Trouble in Little China fan film produced by Tommy Wiseau.
– A dark and gritty fanfic where Avatar: The Last Airbender crosses over with the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog.
– Rolling on ecstasy at a P.F. Chang’s.
– Jason David Frank.
Each of these sounds like guilty pleasure material to me, and Wu Assassins is no exception. Fortunately, that makes for an entertaining martial arts fantasy program.
Wu Assassins is set in an idealistic version of San Francisco where people only hang out downtown and can somehow take the trolley anywhere they want to go. They also hang out in Oakland sometimes, but only in areas where you can clearly see the SF city skyline.
The story follows Kai Jin (Iko Uwais), a chef living in Chinatown, and his adventures as the Wu Assassin, bearer of the Wu Xing powers. He travels in and out of the spirit world to communicate with his guide and be possessed by the spirits of the warriors who help him kick the asses of an evil gang.
I think this show has potential. I like the cast. I like the premise. I like the Shaw Brothers vibes and that faint odor of tokusatsu I’m picking up on too. I want to stick up for it as much as I can. I do. Judging from the first three episodes, I have a sneaking suspicion that the coolest parts of Wu Assassins are the beginning and the end of its first season while everything in between is mostly there for background noise while you’re scrolling through Reddit on your phone.
For instance, most of the B plots here revolve around side characters that you’re not completely invested in. In that sense, it feels padded out. As a viewer, I want to see Kai Jin explore the use of his new powers and watch his training in the spirit realm. Instead, I have to watch a young businesswoman (Jenny Wah, played by Li Jun Li) run a night club that looks way too modern for real-life Chinatown and bail her troubled brother (Tommy Wah, played by Lawrence Kao) out of one gang-related mishap after another.
On top of that, I also have to sit through part of the show that feels like a police procedural on the USA Network from 2008. But watching undercover cop Christine “C. G.” Gavin (Katheryn Winnick) and theft ring leader Lu Xin Lee (Lewis Tan) one-upping each other from opposite sides of the good-and-evil fence is kinda hot, I guess. (Speaking of Lewis Tan, it’s good to see him get a bigger role than he had in Season 3 of Into the Badlands because he’s a pretty good actor.)
If that’s not enough, we also have long montages set to songs that don’t really fit the mood.
Take these parts of Wu Assassins out and what do we have left? Twenty minutes of the show that I thought I was going to watch when I clicked on the awesome-looking thumbnail. But, like I said, I’ve only seen the first three episodes. The rest could get better. For instance, l see that Summer Glau has an appearance coming up, so that’s something to look forward to.
If you like Cinemax’s Warrior but wish it were set in present day San Francisco, had more CGI water dragons, and was just a teensy bit more like Tekken, then Wu Assassins will be up your dimly lit Chinatown alley.
Stephen Harber is the writer who lives in the real San Francisco. He’s the creator of the fan tribute Batman/Doctor Who Adventures, as well as the upcoming Power Rangers vs Freddy Krueger comic crossover. Read more of his work here.