Binge-r #152: Wu Assassins + Piercing
WU ASSASSINS S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
One of the most welcome surprises on Netflix this year was the zombie apocalypse bloodbath Black Summer, which reinvigorated the undead series by stripping down the genre to its gory central tenets [full review here]. The streaming service’s new release, Wu Assassins, may do the same for the martial arts adventure. Offering a smooth mix of bone-crunching action and plot-stoking supernatural twists, the show brings an entertaining flair to familiar moves. It also has a star fronting it: the Indonesian martial arts actor Iko Uwais, who made his name with The Raid and The Raid 2 (neither movie is currently available to stream). At the age of 36 Uwais is in his prime, which essentially translates to an easy screen charisma and immaculately detailed fight choreography where a stand-in definitely isn’t required.
Uwais plays Kai Jin, an Indonesian-Chinese chef working in San Francisco whose belief in doing the right thing, even if it means confronting low-level Triad gangsters, sees him selected as the vessel for a mystical power that gives him the strength (and sometimes appearance) of 1,000 ancient Chinese monks. As explained by his teacher from another dimension, Ying Ying (Celia Au), Kai is now the Wu Assassin, who must stop the five elemental reincarnations of corrupted ancient warlords converging on the city to bring about its destruction. This, obviously, is a step beyond Kai’s plan to launch his own food truck. And it comes with a quandary: Kai doesn’t want to kill anyone, but Ying Ying is adamant that, “the Wu Assassin is hero and a killer”.
What he doesn’t have a problem with is fighting, and for martial arts aficionados Wu Assassins is a showcase of lengthy takes, nimble camerawork and intricate set-pieces – one rumble set inside the tight confines of a food truck during the first episode has the kind of site-specific craft and explosive changes of direction that Jackie Chan long held as a trademark. There are multiple storylines tied to the looming showdown, including Kai’s family ties to the local Triad head, Uncle Six (Byron Mann), his friend and fellow warrior Jenny Wah (Li Jun), and the undercover police officer working to avert a gang war, Christine Gavin (Katheryn Winnick). Not every strand is compelling, but the show allows for more conflict than expected. As well as unarmed combat the other clashes include the responsibility of second-generation migrants and the demand of Asian-Americans to be acknowledged in their homeland. Wu Assassins lands some unexpected blows.
>> Other Reading: HBO’s scathingly hilarious media mogul drama Succession was one of the best new shows of last year, and the new season airing on Foxtel adds to its galvanising mix of horrible people and their tragic fates. I wrote about it for The Monthly [full review here].
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
PIERCING (Netflix, 2018, 81 minutes): Sleek and sharp, like the ice-pick initially wielded with homicidal intent by its male protagonist, Nicolas Pesce’s stylised provocation is adapted from a 1994 novel by Ryu Murakami. Fearful that he is going to kill his baby daughter, Reed (Christopher Abbott) fakes a business trip away from his family so he can murder a sex worker. But the intricate plans of this American psycho, which he rehearses with fretful carefulness, founder as soon as he encounters Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), a dominatrix whose reactions contradict his beliefs before she then starts to assert herself. With its wells of light, excerpts from the scores of 1970s Giallo horror films, and kinks laid out as precisely as the vintage production design, the film is designed to seduce via shock. But the best thing in it is Wasikowska, the Australian actor whose emotional acuity always opens up a new possibility in her characters. The gifted Wasikowska isn’t just better than this material, she elevates it.
New on Netflix: “Air raid!” Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993, 102 minutes) remains one of the great teenage movies, documenting the last day (and night) of school in a 1976 Texas town with wit and grace; a masterpiece of Cold War intrigue, also set in the 1970s, Tomas Alfredson’s John le Carre adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, 122 minutes) stars Gary Oldman as a British spymaster investigating his former colleagues, and ultimately, our cruel capacity for betrayal.
New on SBS on Demand: The Skin I Live In (2011, 120 minutes) is an outlier among the raucous sentiment and familial pain that defines Pedro Almodovar’s work, mixing together body horror and romantic obsession as Antonio Banderas stars opposite Elena Anaya; Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell play a married couple whose uncertain lives can’t survive the psychological horror of family connection and unsettling intrusion in Yorgos Lanthimos’ dead to the touch The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, 121 minutes).
New on Stan: Essential viewing as the best action movie of this century, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, 120 minutes) is thrilling feminist fuel with Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy as dual road warriors; The Lego Movie (2014, 101 minutes) is giddy animated comic enjoyment that’s more than another brick in the wall.
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