The first season of Wu Assassins is one of Netflix’s hidden gems, combining a riveting fantasy-fueled story with a cast spanning generations of martial arts movie icons. This saga continued in Handful of Revengea feature film that picks up where Wu Assassins stopped and brought back many of the show’s main cast members for another adventure filled with brilliantly choreographed and jaw-dropping action sequences.
It didn’t take long to Handful of revenge to reach the top of the Netflix charts, becoming the #1 movie on the streaming service in the United States and around the world within the first 48 hours of its premiere on February 17. Its mainstream success introduced a wide range of audiences to action veteran Iko Uwais and the rest of the film’s talented cast, including the returning Wu Assassins actors Lewis Tan (mortal combat) and Laurent Kao (The originals). Uwais, Tan and Kao play childhood friends Kai Jin, Lu Xin Lee and Tommy Wah respectively, who find themselves facing another supernatural threat to the world shortly after the events of the series – this time, set in Thailand. .
The film’s cast is a mix of genre veterans and actors new to martial arts cinema, but thanks to the film’s talented stunt teams, you wouldn’t know someone was a rookie watching them fight. .
Focus on the fights
“We try to connect the action to the story and the skills of the actors,” Uwais said of his approach – and that of the stunt teams working on the film – to choreographing the complicated action sequences that fill Handful of revenge and so many of his other projects.
Whether consulting or directly involved in choreography via his own stunt team, Uwais often plays a key role in developing the action in the projects he appears in, dating back to his career-launching performance in film. by Gareth Evans in 2011. Lowering. Her experience gives her a unique perspective on this particular element of the genre.
“Lewis is a martial artist, so it’s not really difficult for him, but you have to make it special for each character,” Uwais said of failing to take a “one size fits all” approach to fighting the choreography and training, given the wide range of experience among the cast members. “So the fight design is different for Lewis, different for [Wu Assassins actress] Katheryn Winnick, different for Lawrence, and different for me. But we have fun with it. »
“Before we do the movie or the show, we sit down and try to come up with things that haven’t been done before or ways of filming things that are going to be really unique,” said Tan, whose recent resume is filled with the kind of projects that made him a rising star both in the action genre and with mainstream audiences. In addition to playing in the recent mortal combat franchise reboot, Tan can be seen in popular series In the Badlands and shadow and bone and had a critically acclaimed one-episode appearance on Netflix iron fist series like drunk assassin Zhou Cheng.
“A lot of action movies these days, they stage themselves and say, ‘Okay, let’s see the choreography,’ and then they shoot it and start cutting everything in the cutting room. And that’s it” , he said, “We like to design and plan things very carefully. It takes time. It takes rehearsals. It takes people who can do some of these types of martial arts. And because we have amazing martial artists like Iko, we can use their ability to do these things. [The camera] can stay on it much longer with shots, and we can do scenes in one take. We can use the location and use more props as well.
Another actor with a long history of bringing his martial arts skills to the screen, Juju Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) reprises his role as Triad enforcer and fan favorite Wu Assassins villain Zan in Handful of Revenge, pitting her against the series’ returning trio of main actors. Shortly after the three friends travel from San Francisco to Thailand to find the person who murdered Tommy’s sister, they come face to face with Zan again miles from home.
An accomplished martial artist in a myriad of disciplines whose resume is sprinkled with roles alongside Tony Jaa, Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh and other genre icons, Chan offered further insight into how Handful of revenge, Wu Assassinsand similar projects strive to make each fight scene unique in an action-packed story.
“It’s never just you who fight alone. You fight with an opponent. So whoever works with you on the fight scene, you have to have good chemistry, whether you’re fighting the other actor or their stunt man,” she said. “We were working with the best Asian stunt teams on [Fistful of Vengeance]. We had a month to prepare the movements, so we found different ways to use the environments.
Chan even came face-to-face with Uwais in a memorable scene that saw the pair fight in a narrow hallway, adding a claustrophobic, close-knit element to an encounter that squeezed a lot of intense choreography into a small space.
“That hallway scene was a great example and really fun,” she said. “We tried to use what is in the environment. And face Iko? It was amazing. He’s one of my action heroes.
However, not everyone who throws themselves into the movie has a long history in martial arts cinema. Although Kao is one of the protagonists of the series in Wu Assassins, his role on the show – playing Li Jun Li’s character’s troubled younger brother, Jenny Wah – often kept him away from the action. It changed to Handful of revengewhich sees Kao’s character evolve into a true action hero alongside established brawlers Uwais and Tan.
“Dancing is basically choreography and an understanding of steps and movement, so bring that into martial arts in Handful of Revenge was easy for me to fit in – because in the end, it’s a dance between two people, you know? he said. “The difference is that the stakes are so much higher when you’re fighting because you’re about to die! It makes it so much more intense.
“When they call ‘Action!’ [in a fight scene], it’s a different feeling than when they play music and you start dancing,” he said. “As a dancer, music moves you. But as an actor, the story does. The movement is there, but the story is really what perpetuates what is happening.
Still, it was the chance to finally join Uwais, Tan, and Chan in the action that had Kao most excited. Handful of revenge – especially after spending so much Wu Assassins playing a character who always seems to need rescuing.
“It was like, ‘Hey, welcome to the club. You can come in now! this time,’ he said. [in Wu Assassins], but now I kick ass. As an actor. I’ve never done this before, and being surrounded by heavy hitters like Iko, Lewis and Juju? Come on, this is crazy.
And while it might seem like a set full of action heroes and martial arts stars could easily become a petri dish for unchecked egos and competitive friction, the Handful of revenge the cast was eager to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth in the Wu Assassins universe.
“With Handful of revengeyou had these elite level martial artists and performers who are extremely humble, and [in many cases] want to know more,” said franchise newcomer Jason Tobin, best known for his current starring role in the martial arts drama warrioras well as a recurring role in the Fast and Furious franchise. A well-established martial artist, Tobin plays powerful tech CEO William Pan in the film.
“It’s great because you always learn from each other,” Chan said of his experience on the two. Wu Assassins and Handful of revenge. “Every time I train with Iko’s team, I ask them to teach me silat [the Southeast Asian martial art]. … Whenever I’m on a film set, I like to see other martial artists because I can learn from them. Some of them also asked me to teach them nunchucks, so we exchange our skills and knowledge, and I really like that.
And no matter how long your career is or how impressive your skills are, there’s always room to learn more, Uwais said.
“[On Wu Assassins,] we worked with Mark Dacascos (only the strong, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum), and it can do anything. He can freak and do gymnastics, and I also learned from him,” Uwais said, recalling his own interaction with the genre veterans his recent work has associated him with and the lessons he still learns from them. . While working with the stunt teams to develop action sequences for Dacascos and other actors, Uwais said he is often reminded of the benefits of remaining open to new techniques and disciplines, both for himself and for the actors he works with.
“When we create choreographies for [martial artists actors] based on what we know about them, based on the movies we know about them, they all say to me, ‘I want to learn new things,’” Uwais said. “So I learn from them when we teach them silat or other things that go along with what they know.”
This melting pot of martial arts is something the character of Uwais – a chef as skilled in the kitchen as he is in a fight – would probably be proud to be a part of.
It’s all that planning, training and execution that ultimately makes Handful of Revenge – and Wu Assassinsby the way – feel like projects bigger than their modest budgets, filled with elements that make the action jump off the screen and stay in your memory longer than it would in a price of typical action and more publicized.
Directed by Roel Reinené, Handful of revenge is now available on Netflix.