There was a lot of talk a while back about remaking the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, but apparently no one noticed that the Disney Channel had already remade it, with a different title and Brenda Song in the lead role!
Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (2006) tells the suspiciously familiar story of a seemingly vacuous and superficial highschool girl, whose life is ambushed by a mysterious mentor-figure convinced that she’s actually the latest reincarnation of an ancient demon-fighting warrior chick, and must begin her training immediately, to prepare for the fearsome showdown to come. Of course, in this case, the “mentor” is a hunky young monk rather than a creepy old guy, and the Baddies are revivified Terracotta Warriors rather than vampires… but other than that, it’s pretty much the same old plot-rope in shiny new packaging.
Sadly the dialogue and characterisation fall far below the standard set by Joss Whedon, even in the much maligned movie-version of his iconic creation… and while the fight scenes are impressively staged, with lots of fancy flips and wire-fu, they’re soundtracked with the same tepid elevator music that’s used for the dialogue scenes, which robs them of a lot of the urgency and excitement they might otherwise have had. An early clash between the monk and Wendy’s demon-possessed brother seems to go on forever-and-a-day, thanks to the languid flute music underscoring the scene… it’s like watching an action flick with the sound down, while stood in a New Age gift-shop! The only way in which Wendy could be said to surpass Buffy, is for its exploration of immigrant families losing touch with the language, history, and traditions of their “homeland”, as successive generations integrate into the dominant domestic culture. It seemed a tad contrived to me that the only class Wendy was failing at school just-so-happened to be Chinese History, forcing her to tap into the accumulated knowledge of her past incarnations to pass the class, and thus save her dream of becoming Homecoming Queen… but it was a well-intentioned twist on the old “Chosen One” destiny schtick, so I’ll allow it.
The movie also scores a lot of goodwill thanks to its uber-adorable star… even if the Disney Channel house-style doesn’t allow for much subtlety or depth in the performances of its cast members. Before taking the role, Song had already earned a black-belt in Tae Kwan Do, which must have come in pretty handy when learning all the moves she uses here… even if she’s occasionally (and rather obviously) doubled by a stuntman in drag! There’s something undeniably awesome about seeing her adopt a fighting stance and shoot her “game face” glower at the camera… it’s just a shame that, unlike Buffy, this movie didn’t spawn a superior spin-off series, in which Song could kick demonic ass on a regular basis (preferably under the aegis of Whedonverse writers who know how to punch up this sort of pulpy genre fare). Meanwhile, Wendy’s Mandarin-speaking grandmother, who bemoans her family’s lack of interest in the old-timey ways, is played by Tsai Chin… who, among other things, played a Bond Girl back in the day (You Only Live Twice), as well as Fu Manchu’s daughter, alongside Christopher Lee. Fun fact: Aside from her credit as ‘Grandma Wu’ here, Chin has also played characters named ‘Aunt Wu’ (in Avatar: The Last Airbender), and ‘Madame Wu’ (in 2006’s Casino Royale remake)!
Bizarrely, the DVD also features a random bonus episode of the luxury-hotel-based sitcom The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, in which Song co-starred as a spoiled heiress, named “London Tipton”. In this particular ep (#2.06, “Forever Plaid”) London is transferred to a strict Catholic school, where she’s fawned over by a star-struck classmate (played by a pre-HSM-fame Vanessa Hudgens), and gets condemned to detention along with her unfortunate friend ‘Maddie’ (series regular Ashley Tisdale). Their scenes together were pretty amusing (despite all the mugging), and you do get to see Song and Tisdale dressed as nuns, if that’s your idea of a good time… I can’t say I’m in any rush to check out the rest of the series after this sampler, though.