'Wu Assassins' review: Iko Uwais-starrer Netflix series is a perfect blend of martial arts, supernatural and the mystical
'Wu Assassins' succeeds in setting the stage for the perfect martial arts film, combining age-old fighting techniques with the new, with a sprinkle of supernatural.
This is a spoiler-free review of 'Wu Assassins' season 1
Netflix is coming out with one of its most unique projects on August 8, in the form of ‘Wu Assassins,’ the story of an aspiring chef who learns that destiny holds more for him than culinary brilliance. The reluctant hero has to hide his reality from everyone in his world, who are directly or indirectly associated with the criminal organization called the triad – specifically his father Uncle Six (Byron Mann), who is a high-ranking leader of the triad. He trains under the guidance of quirky, wise, and mysterious Ying Ying (Celia Au), and lives a double life as the soft-spoken chef everyone in Chinatown knows and loves.
The show succeeds in setting the stage for the perfect martial arts film, combining age-old fighting techniques with the new, with a sprinkle of supernatural. The authenticity in this is in the fact that the fight choreographies are designed and executed by actual artists. The protagonist of the show, Kai Jin, for example, is portrayed by Iko Uwais, a talented actor, stuntman, fight choreographer, and martial artist of Indonesian origin, who plays an Indonesian and Chinese character.
As Lawrence Kao, who plays Tommy Wah, one of the main characters on the show, puts it, the fact that Uwais and his whole stunt team was able to blend the martial arts choreography with storytelling is the biggest success of ‘Wu Assassins.’ The story does not pause or pivot for the sake of stunt scenes, but they take the narration forward – you see who is helpless in this world of chaos, and why they are helpless, you see who is able to jump into action during a crisis and what forces them to be brave, and you see who is seemingly complacent but making their moves in the shadows.
We see almost immediately that Kai does not want any part of the violence he has grown up with, and actively tries to stay away from it. It is ironic to him that he is the “chosen one” as Ying Ying claims, but that does not stop him from stepping up, like every hero we have ever known. While the base premise may seem clichéd, the showrunners have made it a point to give the story enough layers to make it as unique as it can possibly be.
Another shining example that ‘Wu Assassins’ sets is in the hiring of a nearly all-Asian American cast. We see different shades of Asian American for one of the first times on screen, sans any stereotypical portrayals, be it blanketed or personalized. From Japan to Indonesia, Americans finally get to see how diverse the Asian American experience is for each individual.
The characters who are not of Asian descent are well utilized as well, with the focus being on their role within the realm of the ‘Wu Assassins’ universe, rather than letting the color of the actor’s skin determine the tone and virtue of the character. This goes for the women as well – they are fighters because they have to be, because their jobs demand it, not for the sake of having badass female characters. They are physically strong and agile to survive in the world that has chewed them up and spit them out a couple of times.
There is an aura of larger-than-life that ‘Wu Assassins’ adapts, however, that the show may have been wise in avoiding. The dialogue deliveries are exaggerated, and oftentimes reminiscent of a dubbed film. However, the show seems to make that work as well, almost giving you a Jackie Chan vibe, and we can’t really be mad at that.
When the show premieres on August 8, we suggest you clear your calendars, invite a few friends over and make Netflix and chill [non-romantic kind] night out of it. It is definitely worth your watch if you are a martial arts fan or a fan of the mystic.