To celebrate Karate being introduced to the Olympics, here is a movie about…erm…not Karate…
It is the 25th Interschool Wushu Championship and 20-year-old Nancy Ho of Southern Sports International University is facing off against her a representative from her school’s most bitter of rivals.
But why is she here? She started school here less than six months ago. More importantly, she is not a martial artist; her interests are cute guys and volleyball. Well, one possible answer is that her boyfriend is on the Wushu team, and she is in this arena because of love. But that cannot be the entire explanation for why she is about to fight a guy who looks to be twice her size.
It all started six months earlier.
Nancy’s father worked for a…well, his work took him all around the world. As a result, Nancy lived in 8 different countries and attended 8 different schools. And though she would complain about her schools, getting bounced from different place to different place convinced her that she could get used to anything.
Still, the important thing about her is that she is rich. Her father’s job provides her all of the amenities that one could wish for. A housemaid, an electric toothbrush. Florida’s Natural orange juice. More Florida’s Natural orange juice. Another brand of orange juice. A third brand of orange juice. A fourth of orange juice. Is her father an orange juice consultant?
Well, whatever her father does his work eventually brought them to Hong Kong and to SSIU. Why that school? Well, why not? Besides, she has a cousin who attends the school and will look after her. Cousin Ken, her father reminds her…the one with the glasses. How does that help? Her father wears glasses too.
They arrive at the school and Ken is there to greet them. He promises his uncle that he will take care of Nancy, but her father does not even up from his tablet thingamee as he closes the door to the car…and drives off. You know how adults are: always on their tablets when they are staring at their laptops. Anyways, Ken is eager to show Nancy the school. Nancy is…less eager, but she tries to smile.
As the two walk by the track…field, Ken explains that the school is very into sports, and pretty much win all of the inter-school championships each year…except for in Wushu during the past three years.
Almost on cue, a basketball comes speeding towards Nancy’s head. Luckily, it is caught just in time by one of the basketball players, who immediately turns around and returns to the game. Ken says he is Tom, the leader of the Wushu team. No, Tom did not acknowledge Nancy, but she seems to be a little smitten already. Ken claims to be on the Wushu team as well. And Tom did not even seem to notice him? Dang.
Ken takes Nancy to see Principal Iron Palm. Iron Palm…loves tea…and moving his hand gracefully around. After noting that Nancy has the skinny build of an undernourished Northerner, he tells her the rules. Wake up at sunrise, do the morning drills, keep good living habits, retire at sunset. He directs this at Ken as well, since he has repeated his final year twice.
Iron Palm asks Nancy her specialty. Volleyball. He says that that is good, as the school is great at volleyball. Also, it is an actual Olympic sport, but anyways…He tells her to listen to the senior students and practice hard. She argues that that is not necessary, as she merely needs to smash the ball. Erm…I am no good at volleyball, but I am pretty sure that there is more to it than that. Her comment annoys Iron Palm, but Ken tells him that he will set Nancy right. It is unclear whether that satisfies Iron Palm, but it will have to do for now.
Ken takes Nancy to her room which…oh, there is no hallway? It just leads directly outside? All right. Well, he takes her to her room and introduces her to her roommate, May, who is also on the Wushu team. Well…it is sort of an introduction. May is sitting on her bed, reading something, with her back towards them. Nancy is creeped out, and asks if there are single rooms. Nope, every room is for between 2 and 10 people. Eventually, May responds, by looking at Nancy through her pocket-sized mirror and saying hello extremely quietly. Nancy is weirded out already, but is freaked out when she sees that part of her face is reddish purple. She tries to stay cool, but whispers to Ken that she would really like some privacy. Ken puts up a privacy clothesline and gives Nancy an electric fan. No air conditioners in the entire school. Something humidity and bad energy.
May leads Nancy to the women’s shower room, which is a bit of a walk away. The shower stalls have no doors; neither do the changing stalls. Nancy goes back to the room.
Nancy starts using her phone only to find that she is not picking up the internet. She asks May about it. Apparently, network connection is cut after 8:00 in order to ensure proper sleep. Just as Nancy asks May to speak up, she starts noticing all of the mosquitos. She decides to go try to shower again, probably not hearing May quietly tell her that she cannot shower after 8:00.
Nancy goes back to the shower room and, sure enough, the water stops working just as she is trying to wipe the shampoo from her face. And, just as she is able to put on her towel, all of the lights turn off.
Well, she somehow makes it back to her room…and practically oversleeps the morning drill. Ken has to burst into her room (does he have a key?) and carry her out.
The drill takes place on the field and…it is a whole thing. It seems to be some sort of martial arts routine led by Tom. It has a lot of steps, but no instructions. So, Nancy watches from the sideline at first and then awkwardly tries to copy everyone else. At least she is kind of having fun.
The various athletic clubs are doing sign-ups. Ken brings Nancy to the Wushu club area, where Tom is trying to get people to sign up. Tom gives her a paper, which is as close as he has gotten so far to acknowledging her.
Time to eat. Ken and Nancy sit next to May, who greets them through her mirror. Nancy cannot eat the food, though, complaining that it is overcooked, hard, and tasteless. Ken says something killing all the germs. Nancy is not having any of that, but so as to not waste the food, she dumps her meal on Ken’s plate.
It must have been less than 24 hours since she has arrived, but Nancy is ready to get out of here. Ken tries to convince her to stay, but eventually just walks off, leaving her to carry all of her stuff.
Nancy does not make it far before she is hit in the face by a flyer advertising the Wushu Club. And here is Tom. And they actually have a conversation…about her leaving. She lists the things that she dislikes about the school and Tom…for some reason, asks her to come with him. He takes a pause from posting up his flyers and takes her luggage.
Tom brings her to his room, where he has prepared a romantic – no, it is just a dorm room, the same as her room…though I am seeing only one bed. Anyways, he gives her some vegetarian sushi rolls to eat and a bottle of medicated wine to take care of the mosquito bites. He shows her how to apply it, though he is a little uncomfortable doing it, and Nancy is…also awkward about it.
Oh dear. Shoe on the bed! It was bad enough them wearing shoes in the room. And it is not even her bed.
Anyways, he lets her keep the bottle, and gives her a Wushu Club flyer.
So, Nancy takes all of her luggage back to her room, where Ken is talking with May about…something. Ken says that he knew that Nancy would end up staying. As Nancy is putting stuff away on her side of the room, Ken says that, since she has mastered volleyball, perhaps she should try something else. May pipes up as well, at least until Nancy emerges from the other side of the clothesline, at which point May starts to speak quietly again. Anyways, Ken says that recruitment for Wushu is going badly. Nancy says that Tom seems quite awesome. Ken says that only Tom and Tina are very good. The rest are only okay, and Ken only does errands. Since they have not won a championship in three years, it is difficult to recruit new people. It could be that almost everyone feels that they do enough martial arts during the morning drills. Well, Ken can see that Nancy has developed a big crush on Tom and is not above using that to push Nancy into joining the team. At this point, he did not have to push hard.
Ken brings Nancy to the Wushu practice room, in a gym that they share with the badminton team. While her outfit does not look to be the standard outfit that the others are wearing, it does have the correct shades of blue and makes more sense than the polo shirts that the guys are wearing anyways.
Nancy greets Tom, who is happy to see her. And then she introduces herself to the seven other people on the team. And she finally gets a proper introduction to Tina Fong, who had been in the background in several scenes prior. Tina says that her job is to teach Wushu, and that the team’s sole goal is to win the championship. She tells Ken to start newcomers on stance, but Nancy wants to…practice…where Tom is.
Tina says that Nancy needs to start with the basics, since she knows nothing about Wushu. Nancy claims that she knows something, and then…erm…assaults Ken. Tina says that that is not Wushu, and has Nancy attack her. It goes bad for Nancy.
So, Nancy is stuck exercising with Ken while Tom and Tina are…doing something with swords. Nancy notes that Tom and Tina are together all of the time. Ken says that everyone pretty much considers them a couple, though he admits that neither of them have confirmed that or anything. Nancy reasons that they could still be available. Ken argues that they have too much in common that it is only a matter of time, but Nancy says that none of that means anything other than there will be trouble if they fight.
Meanwhile, Tina tells Tom that Nancy may need to be cut if she does make the…cut. Tom says, since they are both in their final year, the Wushu team depends on newcomers, so Nancy deserves a chance. Tina notes that Tom is defending Nancy already. Tom asks her what she is insinuating.
It is English class and…seriously, does everyone have English given names in this movie? These were actually English and not subtitle trickery. Well, there is Camby. I don’t know…anyways…Nancy arrives just as the professor is calling her name. Also, she manages to sit next to Tom, who is surprised that she is in a course for seniors. The professor has them go to some random part of Romeo & Juliet and has Tom read the text. Tom…struggles. Yes, English is a difficult language, but he really struggles. Nancy volunteers to read the next part and is so good (and has so much reverb that it is difficult to tell how much of this is ADR) that the professor drops his book on the floor. And everyone applauds. She sits down again and tells Tom that she can help him with English if he helps her with Wushu. Yes, this will totally be a plot point. Tom agrees.
Back to Wushu Club. Tina is telling the rest that being able to take a beating is as important as hitting; that one must overcome one’s fear of getting hurt. To demonstrate, she orders three of the guys to…beat up Nancy. Well, Nancy is not having that. Through her athleticism and a bit of luck, she is able to dodge most of their attacks, and ends up clinging to a basketball hoop. Nevertheless, Nancy is exhausted and aching by the time the club session is over.
Ken tries to cheer Nancy up on their way back to…I guess her dorm room. But then he stops to observe Tina doing sword practice just…outside in some relatively empty area. To Nancy’s annoyance, Ken is transfixed. Apparently, it is Tina’s birthday, and she is spending the evening doing this.
The boys nearby who had been kicking a ball around somehow accidentally hurl it Nancy’s way. She volleyball slams it all the way across the…way. If she was intending to have it hit Tina, then she must not have noticed Principal Iron Palm walking by. He smacks the ball to the ground and…uh…it breaks.
Tina goes to her room to find a bouquet of flowers and a card without writing at her door. She tosses the flowers and the card on the ground outside her door.
It is the qualifying round for the 25th Inter-school Wushu Championships. SSIU and…uh…the other school…are doing sort of routines, showing off their moves. Seven members from SSIU go first, performing with swords, and being relatively graceful. It is primarily a Tom and Tina routine, but the other five play their part. May is one of the participants. In fact, it seems as if only Nancy, Ken, and one other person are not taking part, sitting in the audience with Iron Palm. The performance is well received.
It is time for the school from Alpine to perform; the one that has won the championship for the past three years. Their act is more focused on aggression and endurance. While they do not use swords, they do break a bunch of things. The crowd goes nuts for their destruction, but the SSIU students are less than enthusiastic in their applause. The main guy from Alpine notices Tom and kicks one of the broken wooden beams at his face. Tom catches it in time, but the message is sent. Somehow, Alpine does not get disqualified for that.
It is club time again. SSIU is in the semi-finals, so Tina tells everyone to practice well and rest properly. Seniors like her, Tom, Ken, May (wait, May is a senior and she is rooming with Nancy?), and two others will be in the starting lineup, with Juniors and Sophomores as backup. What about Nancy? Tina says that Nancy still does not have even basic training. Nancy asks Tina to teach her to qualify, but Tina counters that there are no shortcuts, that Nancy would not qualify in a month. If she puts in the effort, then perhaps she can qualify for next year’s Championship.
Then Tina has the three guys attack Nancy again. But Nancy tells them that she is not practicing today, and walks off. Tom starts to walk after her, and she hopes that he will catch up to her to console her. But, he doesn’t. So she is stuck with one of the punching bags. Iron Palm…who was there, I guess…goes over to give her what I guess are words of encouragement, though it comes off like a bunch of nonsense. And did he always sound drunk? What is in that tea that he is always drinking? And why was he there in the first place? If he likes Wushu so much, then how is it the worst performing club at his school?
Back in Nancy’s dorm room, Ken is trying to soothe her arm while she complains about Tina being in the way all of the time. Ken says that they are like each other’s shadow, but perhaps there will be an opportunity for Nancy to approach Tom at the party. The annual party, that no one told Nancy about until just now. The 50th anniversary of SSIU. And it is an actual party, with dancing and alcohol…minus the alcohol. Nancy says that she cannot dance, but Ken offers to teach her. He does some moves that are…uh…well, May laughs. She actually offers to give them both pointers and her moves are…well…better, I guess.
Oh, it is some…1950s-themed dance or something. Nancy and Ken are having fun acting like goofs on the dance floor, while Tom seems to be standing around by himself drinking some non-alcoholic beverage.
Tina walks over to Tom and seems to pick up that he is looking at Nancy. She tells him to go ask Nancy to dance if he fancies her. Tom says that Tina knows that he cannot do that. Cannot dance or cannot date a girl? She says that they have been so busy practicing Wushu that they have no time for anything else. Then she reminds him that this is a critical moment, and that he must not do anything that will affect him. Hmm…
Uh oh. Slow dance time. Nancy goes over and asks Tom to dance with her. He looks to Tina, who gives him a…smirk of approval. So he goes with her. Oops. I guess that Tina did not actually mean it like that. Tina starts to go after them, but Ken blocks her path. He asks her to dance, but she rejects him and walks off, leaving him to amble dejectedly until he bumps into May.
Tom is a little anxious. Nancy tries to rest her head on Tom, but he backs away. She tries again, but he twirls her. Well, now she is annoyed. She made the first move and it was obvious. Is he accepting or rejecting? He tells her that he would like to date her, but he does not have the time. Well, that is enough for Nancy, who starts to walk away. Tom stops her and tells her that he comes from a family of martial artists. His parents have high hopes for him to win the Championship for the school and for the family, and this is his final year. Such a filial son, that Tom. So everything will have to wait until after the Championship. At this point he has been yelling and everyone is staring at him. No, they are staring at Nancy. He asks her if she understands. They ask her if she understands. She wordlessly nods…and…well, that is that.
Look, after last week’s ode to a serial killer, I could use something frivolously silly. And this did the trick. It is goofy, but not all of the time, so it does not plateau. The story itself is pretty standard and so predictable that they even start near the end, but that allows for the script to throw in some nice twists. Parodic? Farcical? I don’t know. The morals of self-sacrifice and persistence in the face of constant rejection may seem a little off, but, again, after last week, this is nothing.
Really, the story is just an excuse for stuff. Most of the early complaints that Nancy has about SSIU do not show up again, either in the form of them getting resolved, Nancy getting used to them, Nancy finding a workaround, or them changing. The point was not to tell a story, but to have unpleasant things happen to a rich brat. For a story about college, we barely see any class time or studying. For a movie about a martial arts club, we barely see martial arts being practiced in the club setting. All of that is window-dressing. And that is fine with me. In fact, when something from earlier in the movie returns after seemingly having been dropped, it is a pleasant surprise as opposed to expected.
A few pleasant surprises involve the subversion of certain tropes found in both romantic movies and sports movies. For one thing, Tina is set up to be Nancy’s romantic rival for Tom. And while Tina would like for Nancy to stay away from Tom, it is more because she fears that Nancy would distract Tom from practicing for the competition and also bring down the club in general with her antics. Of course, Nancy is not there to either shake up the club or whatever. She is there to learn…and get closer to Tom…but also to learn Wushu. I guess that the club is not there to teach Wushu to newbies, but to compete. Still, in neglecting newbies like Nancy, perhaps the club is doomed.
The Wushu itself is…erm…I don’t know. There is some genuine athleticism combined with some obvious Wire-Fu and overt visual effects. And then there is this…
Then there are the things that are just odd. Not super odd, but odd enough that it is not quite clear how sincere the movie is being. It is in that grey zone of not obviously trying too hard to be funny and being wildly unrealistic about it, but also being ever so slightly less than plausible. So, just peeking the top without going over it. Every single scene involving dancing comes to mind, but that is not the only thing. Thankfully…for me…it is not quite cringe-inducing, but it does give the movie a unique tone. And then there is all of that orange juice in the beginning.
And then there is…the music. Sometimes it is completely nothing. But there are some tracks that sound oddly familiar. There is one piece that is so shamelessly a rip-off of “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas. I am not sure if the movie had been unable to secure the rights to that song or if this was just another way for the movie to be weird. The end credits were of no help.
The humor in this movie varies, though it is usually various forms of stupid. It can be somewhat slapstick or fantastical. It can be simply the surprising or the surprisingly mundane. Sometimes the movie makes it seem like it is going to go one way to from A to B, only to go a completely different route. There is one sequence in particular that really got me just for how the movie set up how things would go and then did not go that way. It did not even have anything to do with Wushu or romantic intentions. A fully bonkers movie could not pull off something like that. This was just the right level.
Erm…yeah. I don’t have an ending to this. But when do I ever? This movie is stupid. If you are in the mood for dumb, then you might enjoy this.
WTF ASIA 174: Treeless Mountain (South Korea: 2008, approx. 90 minutes)
WTF ASIA 175: Zoo (India: 2018, approx. 94 minutes)