The Diverse Martial Arts Influences of Netflix’s Wu Assassins

0 Posted by - August 30, 2019 - Film, Martial Artist
Source: Netflix

Wu Assassins is finally here and it’s even more packed with martial arts thrills than we’d originally anticipated. 

We here at the AWMA Blog were very excited when Netflix announced that they had picked up a new series starring — and featuring stunts and martial arts choreography by — The Raid actor and stunt person Iko Uwais last summer. Based on the silat sensation’s involvement alone, we had a feeling that Wu Assassins would be a treat for martial arts fans and a good entrance into the genre for the Netflix. 

Now that it’s available for streaming, we see that the series has an even stronger martial arts pedigree than expected. On both sides of the camera, Uwais is joined by fellow actors, stunt people, and directors who can (almost) keep up with him. Let’s take a closer look at some of his colleagues and how their martial arts backgrounds help make Wu Assassins so good.

What is Wu Assassins?

Wu Assassins is Netflix’s first ever martial arts series. Set in San Francisco’s legendary Chinatown, it follows the story of Kai Jin, an aspiring chef turned assassin who becomes caught up in all-encompassing war between good and evil. The ten episode first season premiered on August 8. 

Who is Iko Uwais?

Iko Uwais, who plays Kai Jin in Wu Assassins, is a pencak silat champion. He started acting and doing stunt work after being discovered in a documentary. Since then, he’s starred in the breakthrough hit The Raid and its sequels, and a little thing called Star Wars. He does 3-5 hours of silat training and a day and his hobby is working on choreography. For more on Uwais, see our blog on him from last July.

Are there other martial artists in Wu Assassins?

A large portion of the Wu Assassins cast has a background in at least one martial art. Byron Mann (Uncle Six) started training as part of his preparation to play Ryu in the 1994 Street Fighter film. Celia Au (Ying Ying) trains in Tiger Forms and Shaolin Forms of Kung Fu. Her Sifu is Tak Wah Eng. Katheryn Winnick (Christine Gavin) is a Taekwondo black belt. Lewis Tan (Lu Xin Lee) is a martial artist and stunt person who began training with his father as a child. “My father was a national champion martial artist who competed in many different styles. He taught me from a young age how to fight; it was our bonding time. We would sit and watch old Bruce Lee films and stretch in the living room,” Tan told Hapa Mag in 2018. 

Some of the behind the scenes talent has their own history with martial arts. Director Stephen Fung, for example, began his career making wuxia and tai chi films in Hong Kong. Wu Assassins also has an acclaimed stunt team.

Martial Arts in Wu Assassins

With so much talent and experience in so many aspects of so many martial arts, the cast and crew were able to collaborate and challenge themselves in whole new ways to create something really special in Wu Assassins.  

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Fung offered a fascinating look into how that collaboration worked for him. “Iko is a famous action star in Southeast Asia and Katheryn is a black belt in Taekwondo, and their action styles are very different from the kind we’re used to in Hong Kong action cinema. It gave me a fresh perspective and pushed me to think out of the box,” he said. 

“For Chinese martial arts cinema, aesthetics come first. When there is a fight onscreen, we don’t pull real punches. It depends more on whether the choreography is visually pleasing, how the body language is expressed, with the help of wires, so it is more like a dance than be actually practical,” he continued. “But with Iko’s martial arts discipline of silat, the fighting is more practical and there are a lot of joint locks. So filming Iko I could emphasize less on the aesthetics and use a more down-and-dirty handheld style, get a grainy feel and immerse the audience right in the middle of the action.”