Cynthia will no doubt be pleased to know that I have watched another Disney channel movie, this time Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior.
Like High School Musical, Wendy Wu is actually a great idea for a movie that never lives up to its potential because of its TV movie limitations and Disney Channel target audience. It's your standard kung-fu tale shoehorned into the typical teenage high school setting, which should be awesome. Wendy even plays soccer, which leads to a couple of scenes that must be an homage to Shaolin Soccer. Playing Wendy's warped popular girl priorities off of her duty to learn kung fu and save the world is funny, but it should be hilarious. The idea could have been a movie that was smart, gritty and funny, along the lines of Buffy, but it isn't.
Thankfully, it's not as annoying as High School Musical is, in that hypercaffeinated Disney Channel sort of way, but the story does seriously drag in parts. In the end it's a okay, watchable movie that you wish could be made for real.
Wendy Wu ("Wen" to her painfully hip pals) is a shallow popular girl who wants nothing more than to be homecoming queen. She thinks she's a shoo-in, but when her rival in popularity starts actively campaigning via cookies and posters ("Jessica Dawson: The Obvious Choice") Wendy hurries home and bullies her parents into helping make some cupcakes, Tracy-Flick-style.
Wendy is third generation Chinese American. Her quirky Chinese grandmother lives with the family, but her second-gen parents are so Americanized that her father can't speak Chinese, and her mother knows nothing about the ancient Chinese artifacts she's supposed to be curating at the local museum (not even the famous terra cotta soldiers that we're supposed to believe the Chinese government would actually loan out). Her brother even plays football and rides a motorcycle! What kind of Asian parents are these?!
Meanwhile, in China, the young monk Shen is matter-of-factly notified that the evil Yan Lo has awakened. Later we learn that the casual nature of the announcement is perhaps justified, since Shen has been training his entire life for the epic battle with Yan Lo, which takes place all too frequently: every 90 years. And of course, every generation has its own warrior who is destined to fight Yan Lo. Guess who Shen has to find?
That's right, it's Wendy Wu! Yan Lo arrives as an artifact in the museum and quickly possess a security guard, then Wendy's brother when he arrives to deliver a pizza. Soon after, Shen manages save a sleeping Wendy by fighting off her possessed brother. We get a long action scene of wire-fu that's surprisingly good for a kids' TV movie, but the terribly bland, ill-fitting music sucks all the excitement out of it, as if they wanted it boring on purpose.
One of the movie's highlights comes when the brother, unpossessed, is confused to find himself at home:
BROTHER: (confused) I'm home? (shrugs) Cool. (walks off)
Anyway, here begins a lengthy section of the movie in which Shen tries to get Wendy to wear a necklace that will protect her from evil, but she thinks it's ugly and refuses to wear it. At the same time, Shen tries to convince her to train with him to save the world from evil, but she doesn't care and would rather focus on winning homecoming queen. This is a pretty funny idea, but the story gets stuck here for what seems like half an hour. Wendy thinks Shen is weird and embarrassing, while her grandmother is excited that Wendy is the new Some Kind of Warrior. In fact, the grandmother invests her scenes with so much emotion that she seems to be from another, better movie.
Shen passes himself off as a distant cousin and has dinner with the family, where his moon cakes make Wendy's parents ashamed at having lost touch with their heritage.
Finally, Wendy agrees to train when Shen offers to help her pass her test on Chinese history. Yeah right! Since when do California schools teach Chinese history!? Anyway, Wendy needs to pass to raise her D in World History, or she'll be disqualified from being Homecoming Queen. Okay, I know they're really Americanized, but Asian parents letting their daughter sink to a D grade? Come on. They're not Korean.
Shen teaches Wendy to meditate instead of study, because if you're Asian you inherently know Chinese history as long as you meditate hard enough.
Wendy gives Shen a makeover and he becomes a cool dude. She starts to have a crush on him and regrets telling everyone he's her cousin. Shen has little statues that produce the spirits of great monks to train her, but Wendy feels weird about fighting old guys in the park. So Shen possesses Wendy's teachers with the spirits of the monks, because Wendy apparently doesn't feel so weird about fighting teachers in the park. Oh-kay.
Wendy learns the fated battle is the same night as Homecoming. What to do? She chooses Homecoming, naturally, but changes her mind when she learns that Shen has gone to battle alone.
There's a clever twist when it turns out that the evil spirit is possessing Wendy's Homecoming Queen rival, so fighting evil means Wendy gets to kick the other girl's ass. Meanwhile the teacher/monks and Shen fight the terra cotta soldiers, destroying them. (Wendy's mom is going to be in a lot of trouble with the Chinese government.)
Shen is fated to die in the battle--in fact, he has in every previous life--but Wendy won't let him. She revives him with magic and together they defeat Yan Lo permanently, which seems like something someone should have done a long time ago. Someone says something about him being defeated because Wendy has learned true sacrifice. Ironic, since by reviving Shen she seems to have done the opposite--but then, I think the true sacrifice they're referring to is the fact that Wendy skipped Homecoming and relinquished her crown. Okay, if that's what passes for true sacrifice these days.
Still, a movie called Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior begs for a climactic showdown that takes place... well, at Homecoming, and instead it happens in the boring museum storeroom. It screams low-budget and is a major missed opportunity. They had a lot of extras in an earlier party scene. What, they couldn't get them back? I'm reminded of how High School Musical never showed us the musical and instead ended with a basketball game. What the hell, Disney Channel? Live up to your promises.