Ten years since breaking ground for Indonesian audiences with Merantau and his own action franchise with The Raid, action star and actor Iko Uwais has grown ever closer to becoming a more household name in the mainstream market beyond the martial arts niche.
Following recent hits like Headshot and The Night Comes For Us and Hollywood turn-outs for Mile 22 and Stuber, the prolific Silat impresario now stakes his claim with his own Netflix series in Wu Assassins, the latest in a continued string of martial arts-tethered TV hits succeeding shows like Into The Badlands and Cinemax’s Bruce Lee-honed western drama, Warrior.
Set in present-day San Francisco, the show opens in action-scenic fashion with Uwais embroiled in a blistering hallway fight. We see two versions of this action sequence in the first episode bookending what observes as an introductory look into the world of Kai, a stoic, resilient chef trying to self-sustain with his own food cart despite being the adopted son of a wealthy Triad boss, Uncle Six, played by Byron Mann.
He’s frequently sought after with offers of support by his adopted peers, including beleagured restaurant managers Jenny and Tommy, portrayed by Li Jun Li and Lawrence Kao, respectively. Lewis Tan of Marvel’s Iron Fist and Into The Badlands fame takes on the role of Kai’s best friend, Lu Xin Lee who runs a garage and a car theft ring for the local Triad, an occupation that also puts him under the microscope of undercover cop, Christine “C.G.” Gavin, played by Kathryn Winnick.
The show finally takes a turn to its more mystical identity about halfway when Kai finally meets Ying Ying – played by Celia Au – a mysterious warrior who embues Kai with a spellbinding monk piece that grants him the power of a thousand monks.
As “the chosen one”, Kai soon learns the urgency of those powers in a two day span just as he’s wrongfully attacked by local Triads who mistake him as a nobody; There’s a catch in that particular outnumbered gangbuster clash though, and as hinted in the trailer, that’s where celebrated martial arts star Mark Dacascos (John Wick 3: Parabellum) comes in.
Mann’s portrayal of the vindictive Uncle Six leaves no mystery to his relentlesness in lieu of a new crimeboss looking to move in on his territory – that crimeboss being Alec McCullough, played by Tommy Flanagan who we’ll see more of in the series going forward.
Actor Tzi Ma who co-stars as kind-hearted Mr. Young, local Chinatown grocer and Kai’s mentor. The show also introduces actress and martial arts star JuJu Chan who plays the role of Zan, one of Uncle Six’s closest lieutenants and bodyguards, and with footage in the trailer further hinting she’ll get some plentiful screentime of her own in this new series.
It’s only nowadays, a show like Wu Assassins could exist, particularly in a climate where Asians have continually fought for parity and better representation. Too often, audiences have had to bare witness to the folly of writers and directors who, even to this day, continue to fumble the ball on how to better present a cast of this kind for a worldwide audience, and so it’s pretty fair to say after seeing the first episode that the hype is as good as it’s been touted: the right people were hired for this one.
I think I’ll enjoy endulging the remainder of this first season, and I sincerely hope that season two comes if the finale legitimizes it. Netflix has a terrible habit of cancelling really good shows and it took the jaws of life and the fervor of thousands for fans to get their two-hour Sense8 finale – also a terrific series, and I’m still gutted by the “what could’ve been’s” with The Get-Down.
Alas, my fingers are crossed that Wu Assassins gets to go full circle as we journey into Kai’s harrowing, fight-loaded tale of self-discovery and brutal action and drama. In the meantime, hat tip to Fung for continuing to do what he naturally does best, to Uwais Team and Dan Rizzuto’s M1 Fight Design for getting us off to a proper start on this impressive new show, and for the showrunners and producers for giving some of the most deserving action talents of our time a chance to floruish.
One down, nine to go.