How Fistful of Vengeance Connects to the Wu Assassins
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With a predominantly Asian cast, Wu Assassins was ahead of its time. Like the CWs Kung Fu restart last year, Wu Assassins was a precursor to Asian inclusion, just a little premature. He did not receive the shower of accolades that Kung Fu got, but that show came out just as the spike in Asian hate crimes blaming Covid left the media clamoring for positive Asian portrayal. Kung Fu received widespread critical acclaim hailing him as the standard bearer of the “Stop Asian Hate” movement and representation of AAPI.
Although it predated the pandemic, Wu Assassins had an almost premonitory sensitivity. The series contained clever cultural nods that spoke of an Asian American experience. Netflix is taking advantage of this with its teaser preview which highlights a scene from Episode 7 “Legacy” where Uncle Six (Byron Mann) educates a racist restaurant waitress about Asian American history and rights. It’s almost a lecture, immediately followed by Uncle Six and Kai beating up a bunch of offended rednecks, just to make the point. Handful of Revenge continues that vibe of Asian inclusivity with an almost entirely Asian cast. As Tommy said, “Like the Avengers…but Asian.”
Everybody was doing kung fu
However, this AAPI representation plays a supporting role in Handful of Revenge. Much like the series, this franchise is primarily a showcase of martial arts. Handful of Revenge is almost solid fight scenes, even more so than the original series. It doesn’t mess around with too much plot, just like its predecessor. Wu Assassins was a pastiche of cliches, reciting time-worn martial arts tropes such as the former “chosen one,” the family restaurant threatened by a Chinatown triad, the defiant cop who does the right thing despite orders from his commander, the junkie brother and soon. It’s both a tribute and a rip-off, liberally poaching elements from shows such as mountaineer and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
What redeemed Wu Assassins was a cast full of true martial arts masters. Most martial series use actors who have only had a few months of training before filming, and loyal fans of the genre can tell. Uwais was a national martial arts champion who was discovered in his breakout movie Lowering and went on to star in a series of well-regarded but brutal martial arts films, as well as making a guest appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Tan was trained from childhood by his father, veteran stuntman and martial artist Philip Tan. When he took on the role of Lu, he was fresh out of In the Badlands and on the way to the main role in mortal combat. Uwais, Tan and Kao’s buddy movie chemistry works well. They look more like the Asian Three Musketeers than the Avengers. However, it struggles to echo the importance of family, a formula that has been so lucrative for the Fast & Furious franchise.
Other noted martial artists from the original series include Mark Dacascos (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum), Katheryn Winnick (vikings), and JuJu Chan Szeto (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny). However, beyond Uwais, Tan and Kao, only Chan Szeto reprises his role as Zan. Handful of Revenge is not season 2 compressed into one movie. It’s a whole new story.