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Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior: Kickin' Edition DVD Review
|Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior
Movie & DVD Details
Director: John Laing
Cast: Brenda Song (Wendy Wu), Shin Koyamada (Shen), Susan Chuang (Nina Wu), Justin Chon (Peter Wu), Michael David Cheng (Kenny Wu), Andy Fischer-Price (Austin), Ellen Woglom (Jessica Dawson), Tsai Chin (Grandma Wu), James Gaylyn (Mr. Medina), Michael Saccente (Mr. Garibay), Sally Stockwell (Coach Gibbs), Tim Raby (Mr. Tobias), Anne Hutchison (Lisa), Sally Martin (Tory)
Original Air Date: June 16, 2006 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: TV-PG
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: October 24, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase with Side Snaps
|By Albert Gutierrez
At first glance, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior may seem like a fluffy female-kicks-butt movie, a perfect 90-minute distraction for tween girls. But at the same time, it blends a somewhat shaky story with some really impressive (and real) martial arts sequences and familiar endearing themes about self-acceptance, heritage, and family. It gives this film respectability beyond the tween market,
An ancient Chinese myth about Yan Lo and the Yin Warrior helps set the story, as every 90 years, the orb prison of Yan Lo's grows weaker, allowing him to escape. It is up to the descendant of the Yin Warrior to fight Yan Lo and recapture him within the orb. We arrive at 2006, ninety years since the last battle between Yan Lo and the Yin Warrior. Shen (Shin Koyamada), a many-times-over reincarnation of the Yin Warrior's guardian, is training in a Chinese Temple, when the elder tells him it is time. Immediately, he leaves for Fair Springs, California, where we're introduced to Wendy Wu (Brenda Song), the latest descendant and popular high school student. She is preoccupied with becoming Homecoming Queen, a position that's in danger of being acquired by her foe Jessica Dawson (Ellen Woglom). Her best friends, Tory and Megan (Sally Martin and Greydis Montero, respectively), are your cookie-cutter characters, there simply to agree with and support Wendy while having no real problems of their own. Wendy's boyfriend is Austin (Andy Fischer-Price), who simply cares about how he looks, how he and Wendy look together, and that everyone knows how good they look.
Shen continually tries to get Wendy to begin training, and succeeds when Wendy relies on him to help her pass World History. But even before her proper training starts, Wendy's powers are emerging, as evident by her sudden abilities to fight with broomsticks, do elaborate soccer kicks, and throw a tube of lipstick at a deadly speed. Before Wendy decides to take the training seriously, the spirit of Yan Lo possesses several people in order to get to Wendy, including her brother Peter (Justin Chon), a few of her teachers, and even her dog. As each near-miss occurs, the spirit jumps into another body, leaving the possessee with no memory of what happened while possessed.
Thanks to Wendy's inability to commit to her training, the story starts to come together and make sense, as it gives us a chance for some exposition. Wendy's mother Nina (Susan Chuang) discusses museum business that unbeknownst to them (but beknownst to us) explains how Yan Lo found the Yin Warrior for this 90-year appointment. Wendy's grandmother (Tsai Chin), finally helps Wendy and the viewers put the pieces together when she tells Wendy the full story as they set up the table for dinner, and reveals that the legend is true... because Wendy's great-grandmother was the Yin Warrior before. Even if it's not as compelling a story as one you would find in a Jet Li film, it's the fight sequences that are worth watching.
With the wonders of camera angles, hidden wires, and a bit of CGI, sequences that would otherwise take years of training to accomplish in real life are done with ease in this film. Especially during the impressive "Warrior Training" sequence, in which Shen and Wendy's teachers (possessed by training spirits) help Wendy learn Kung Fu faster than Luke Skywalker mastered the Force in Star Wars. Perhaps most impressive is the speed training, very much reminiscent of the Weirding Way from Dune. Training at first is not easy for Wendy, though with the help of Shen and the teachers/training spirits, she quickly learns the way of the Yin Warrior. While Wendy is training, the spirit of Yan Lo jumps from person to person, continually trying to destroy Wendy. Ultimately and perhaps appropriately, the spirit lands in Jessica Dawson (the homecoming queen rival, if anyone cared), and the battle begins as Wendy, Shen, and her teachers/spirits fight Jessica/Yan Lo and terra cotta warriors.
The film is not without a few flaws, as it often relies on some traditional high school and Asian stereotypes to further the story along. Not all "popular" high school students are as shallow or as snobby as those seen in this film, not all Asian grandmothers are cutely inarticulate, and not all martial arts warriors will actually say "Hi-yah!" when fighting. And as much as I would love to be a stereotypical Asian who's great at dancing, sadly, that is not true either. Along with the expected stereotypes, the talent behind these characters leaves something to be desired. I doubt Disney went on a huge nationwide casting call for every character, as it's more of a vehicle for Brenda Song. But I wouldn't be surprised if they simply picked good-looking people off the street and asked, "Hey, you wanna be in a movie?" At least, that's the impression I get when watching some of the younger characters (*cough* Austin and Megan *cough*). As clichéd as these personality traits are and as abysmal as some of the acting is, it's pretty minor, forgettable and secondary to the themes presented.
Brenda Song shines as Wendy Wu, as it's a strong departure from her flaky London Tipton character in "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody." While she initially is presented as a stereotypical popular high school girl, her character goes through a transformation and matures into not just the Yin Warrior that the story's about, but a modern-thinking female adolescent who actually looks beyond a shallow high school tradition. Compared to other DCOM heroines, Wendy's journey and character development is perhaps more extreme, and in a way, somewhat realistic (never mind the whole learning-martial-arts-in-a-few-days). A teenage witch or spacegirl may be able to save the world several times over, but how often will a high school girl realize there's more than being Homecoming Queen?
Within the dynamics of Wendy Wu's family, we examine not only a clash of Asian and American cultures, but just how important one's heritage truly is. Early in the film, Wendy's mother laments how little she knows about the history and legends of China when working with ancient artifacts. Later on, in a rather poignant scene (and a rare non-Wendy one at that), Wendy's father discusses with her mother how he realizes that he's turned his back on their Chinese heritage. Having Shen in the house, and the mooncakes as well, brought it all back to him as he realizes that he can't deny who he is, and resolves to be a Chinese-American family, not just an American one with Chinese roots. While the context of this short scene is hardly expanded upon in the rest of the film, it's an important reminder to viewers to embrace who they are.
Perhaps the one theme most present, and yet the most subtle, throughout the film is that of family traditions. With the legend of Yan Lo and the Yin Warrior as the starting point,
There's very little for me to say against this movie, mainly because it's not meant to be a great action epic, nor is it meant to be a socially-relevant human interest piece. Rather, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is an enjoyable little telefilm, rife with killer action sequences (for a DCOM), and a great showcase of talent in both acting and martial for Brenda Song. Aside from a few totally cliched characters and situations, it's worth 91 minutes of your time.
The film is presented on DVD in a "Kickin' Edition", though I wish they'd put more creativity in these titles. What about "Kick This, Yan Lo! Edition"? Perhaps a rhyming "Keepin' Tradition Edition"? No? Didn't think so.
VIDEO and AUDIO
Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is presented in its broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 "fullscreen." It is acceptable for now, given Disney's penchant of releasing DCOM DVDs in that ratio, but it's been known for some time that these movies are filmed in widescreen
As expected for a very recent film in today's digital age, video quality is excellent. I couldn't find any flaws at all, detail was crisp and clear, and colors are most impressive. Even the CGI effects look natural within the film, something not to easy to accomplish on a telefilm budget.
We're only given one option for audio, which is a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track. Dialogue is pretty strong, with the music and effects balanced out throughout the background and doesn't overpower the dialogue. I don't have much of an ear for these things, but if it sounds as impressive in a real home theatre as it did on my modest setups, I'd have to say it's a good even mix.
BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN
Bonus features aren't as in-depth as one would hope for, though we do get some interesting featurettes. First up is "Homecoming Warrior in Training" (6:39), which mostly focuses on the film's stunts and fighting. Brenda Song, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, not only had to learn several other martial arts but also how to pull off many of her own stunts within the film.
Our second featurette is "Cast Connections with Brenda Song" (7:39), which is the fluffy piece. While the title would lead one to expect it to be some type of one-on-one interview with Brenda Song, it's more of a "six degrees of separation" between (insert Brenda Song or any Disney Channel actor) and (insert any Disney Channel Original Series or Movie). Song is the primary focus though, as she gives quick appreciation ("I loved the cast!") for each of the shows/movies she's done with Disney. Ultimately, it's really just a interactive resumé of her and other actors' Disney work while also a testament of just how often the cable network re-uses the same stars within their productions. If something works for them, they apparently stick with it.
We've also got an extended ending (1.33:1 ratio) that lasts less than a minute and thankfully was not used. While it opens the door for a sequel (which I wouldn't mind seeing), it ultimately negates any purpose of the original ending, which had a much truer sense of finality to the story.
The longest bonus feature (22:37, with chapter stops!) and the least related to the movie (aside from sharing an actress) is a bonus episode of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody", in which Song co-stars as heiress London Tipton, a rather ditzy rich girl who is a kiddified and cleaned-up parody of Paris Hilton. The episode, "Forever Plaid" aired March 20, 2006 and is also available for download from iTunes. Given the formulaic structure of the show, it's essentially split into an A story (Zack & Cody), and a B story (London & Maddie). Since she's been skipping school, London's forced to go to Maddie's school where she causes disruption after disruption leading to her and Maddie dressing as Finnish nuns. Meanwhile, Zack and Cody accidentally put a hole in the wall of the penthouse suite... which just happens to peek into the locker room of a girls soccer team. Why a locker room would be next to the penthouse suite, I have no idea. They're caught after drilling more holes and charging kids a peep, and Zack's inability to negotiate results in a 3,000-word apology essay. The episode isn't the best from the series. Video quality apparently isn't either; the picture is soft at times, and appears to jump or show some wavering lines if the camera or actor moves too quickly.
The disc opens with previews for Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, Meet the Robinsons, Cars, and "Hannah Montana." From the main menu (which is a static-with-music 16x9), you can find additional promos for Robin Hood: Special Edition, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, Tinker Bell, High School Musical 2, and Air Buddies.
The DVD is packaged in a standard white keepcase (with sidesnaps), and has a primarily red and pink cover with Brenda Song kicking in the air. The DCOM DVD Extra banner graces the bottom of the cover as well. The disc itself features a close-up of the same kicking pose, and is translucent. Inside one can find a two-sided chapter index (side 1: scene and bonus feature listings, side 2: ad for The Cheetah Girls 2) as well as a smaller-sized insert promoting Hannah Montana: Livin' the Rock Star Life DVD and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody."
A wonderful departure from the standard DCOMs, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is an engaging action film that is worth a viewing. Brenda Song shows in this movie that she no longer has to restrict herself to playing the dumb one. The bonus features won't impress, and the bonus episode serves no real purpose, but otherwise, it's a very well-done DVD. I wholly recommend it, even to those who don't normally enjoy DCOMs, mainly because it doesn't have a DCOM feel. Let Wendy Wu come home to your DVD collection.
UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Disney Channel Original Movies Page | Upcoming DVDs | Recent DVDs | Search UltimateDisney.com Reviewed October 22, 2006.
Brenda Song, star of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody"
Starring Brenda Song: Get a Clue • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Taking over the Tipton
That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana
Hannah Montana: Livin' the Rock Star Life • Twitches • Cow Belles • Leroy & Stitch
Disney Channel Holiday • Power Rangers Mystic Force: Dark Wish - The Blockbuster
Halloweentown & Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge • High School Musical: Encore Edition
Mulan: Special Edition • Mulan II • Around the World in 80 Days • Halloweentown High
Phil of the Future: Gadgets & Gizmos • Pom Poko • Sky High • Squanto: A Warrior's Tale
UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Disney Channel Original Movies Page | Upcoming DVDs | Recent DVDs | Search UltimateDisney.com
Reviewed October 22, 2006.