Some great fight scenes and an unashamedly gonzo sensibility make this new Netflix series — a guilty pleasure, if ever there was one — an enjoyable diversion.
Wu Assassins Season 1 debuted on Netflix today, August 8th. This review is spoiler-free.
I dislike the term “guilty pleasure”. It implies one should feel guilt over the things they like, which is ridiculous. And it’s also worthless. It means so many different things to so many different people it doesn’t actually mean anything at all. But Netflix’s new fantastical martial arts series Wu Assassins fits almost any interpretation of the term. It mashes together crazy contemporary action — and is fronted by its international spokesman, Iko Uwais — and an old-school kung fu adventure spirit. It’s deeply silly and knows that about itself. And it’s very difficult to dislike.
Almost everything about Wu Assassins Season 1 is confusing. Its action wavers between the quasi-slapstick improvisation of peak Jackie Chan and the bone-crunching brutality of The Raid. It feels at once distinctly Western in its setting but also distinctly Eastern in its influences and mythological undercurrent. Sometimes it’s breathlessly energetic — others it eases off the gas to develop B-plots involving thinly-written supporting characters with comparatively mundane real-world issues. The pacing and tone are all over the place.
Almost none of this matters. At the core of Wu Assassins Season 1 is Iko Uwais, here playing Kai Jin, a Chinatown chef who becomes imbued with the powers of ancient warrior monks. When he fights, it’s often with their faces, keeping him helpfully disguised in his endeavors. And the fighting is all I want from Iko Uwais. I don’t need him to display a complex range of emotions, just a complex range of kicks and punches. He’s so good at this that it’d be a waste if he did anything else. And Wu Assassins gives him plenty of it to do. What is there to complain about?
Well, there are some things, as it happens. The inconsistency — intentional or not — of its tone and pace and virtually everything else will annoy some people. Anyone intolerant of kitschy kung fu will hate it. Anyone not enthused by the prospect of Iko Uwais battering people for ten episodes probably won’t like it either — but anyone unenthused by that prospect mustn’t be trusted. But I reckon Wu Assassins Season 1 — god-awful CGI notwithstanding — will entice many more fans than detractors. It’s Cinemax’s Warrior with a refreshingly gonzo attitude; The Raid without its oppressive, overwhelming brutality. It’s a lot of fun, and if having fun is something to be guilty about, then I’m ready to enter my plea.