Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (2006)

Rating: *(*)
Release Date: 11/20/99
Actor Director: Kocihi Sakamoto
Cast: Brenda Song, Shin Koyamada, Justin Chon

A bizarre amalgam of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (1992) and Hong Kong Cinema 101, dumbed down for the pre-teen Disney Channel crowd. Apart from the energetic and sometimes entertaining action sequences, the film is nearly intolerable to watch. The clichéd and juvenile dialog is painful to listen to, and the shallow stereotypes are as offensive as they are annoying. That said, I fast forwarded through most of the movie, which should probably disqualify me from reviewing it, but here I go anyway.

Somewhere in the mountains of Mongolia, a young Buddhist monk named Shen (Shin Koyamada) practices kung fu in preparation for facing a legendary evil force. He also has to protect and train a young warrior with latent special powers, who just so happens to be an air-headed high school student in California named Wendy Wu (adorable Brenda Song). Naturally, the only thing on Wendy's mind is becoming homecoming queen, even as a nasty demon repeatedly tries to take her life. She eventually warms up to Shen and learns various forms of kung fu, including snake, crane, leopard, and tiger styles. Everything comes to a head on the night of the homecoming dance, as the villain possesses the body of Wendy's homecoming queen rival, Jessica. Dressed in frilly formal wear, the two of them amusingly duke it out in a museum warehouse, with some terracotta warriors thrown in for good measure. Wendy learns a big lesson in compassion and sacrifice as she saves the world and destroys the evil demon forever.

Like I said, the vapid teenage dialog is unbearable, but 18 year old Brenda Song shines throughout. She's incredibly cute and charismatic, and handles her action scenes with intensity and conviction. While her form is good and her movements are graceful, her execution isn't always convincing. The real star of the show is Shin Koyamada, who is a very talented martial artist. His movements are quick and fluid, and his kung fu looks to be of the wushu variety - very flashy and graceful. Wendy's brother (Justin Chon) is also quite good, and his fight with Shen is probably the highlight of the film. Koichi Sakamoto from Alpha Stunts provides the action choreography, which for the most part is quite good. The cinematography and editing are very good, which is what you'd expect from Sakamoto and his team (check out his work in Steve Wang's "Drive" (1997) and "Guyver 2: Dark Hero" (1994) ). Where it suffers the most is in the overly protective presentation, being that this is supposed to be a kid-friendly family show. The players pull their punches quite a bit, the camera cuts away from contacts, impact sounds are not present (fight scenes are often completely silent), and the excessive wire stunts are disruptive and tacky looking. Stunt doubles are glaringly apparent, and shoe continuity is a major problem (as is often the case when female fighters are involved). Overall, if you like flashy martial arts action and can deal with inane teenage banter, "Wendy Wu" might be a film worth checking out.