Starring Vincent Zhao, Andy On, Jay Chou, Michelle Yeoh, Gordon Liu, Zhou Xun
Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping
Directed By Yuen Woo Ping
After serving up some of his best fight choreography for other directors and their films, Woo Ping jumps back into the directing saddle for his first 3D film. As a disclaimer, I didn’t watch the 3D version, so I can’t really speak to how “good” the 3D is, not that it really matters. After all, this is Woo Ping, right?
True Legend tells the story of the famous Beggar Su, who was said to have created the form of drunken boxing. The film starts off with a bang as General Su, as he was known at one time, leads a daring raid against another tribe to save his commander and the fighting that ensues is vintage Woo-Ping: good use of wires, acrobatic and lyrical fight choreography that never forgets the life and death at play. In other words, they all look great whaling on each other. Su vs the general of the opposing army is some of Woo Ping’s best choreography in years. Su saves his commander, and is commended and offered a governorship, but Su refuses, instead giving it to his foster brother Yuan (Andy On). Little does Su know that his act of friendship would also be the source of his impending tragedy.
Years later Yuan shows up at the home of Su and his family, and we find that Yuan’s real father was killed by Su’s father long ago, after Yuan’s father starting going around killing other kung-fu people with his Five Venom Fist kung-fu style. Yuan has learned this style also, and it evidently turns your skin bone white! Yuan kills Su’s father, and another fantastic fight ensues when Su goes after Yuan, and meets the kung-fu version of the wonder twins, called the Iron Twins. Both brother and sister give Su one hell of a fight, and Su is able to get past them and tries to save his wife Ying and their son from Yuan and duels him, and we come to our first Holy Shit! moment, when we find that Yuan, being the crazy bastard he is, has actually attached his armor to his skin.Yuan then zaps Su with his Five Venom Fist, and the next Holy Shit! moment occurs as we see the poison turn Su into a human blueberry. Su and Ying escape, but they leave their son Little Feng behind. Su and his wife are saved by Dr. Yu (Yeoh) a woman who lives atop a mountain, who treats Su’s wounds, and they stay with her, but over time Su starts to go off into the forest and is challenged by the God of Wushu (Chou) and is watched by the Old Sage (Liu) who try to get his kung-fu in tip top shape. A disturbing moment causes Ying to attempt to save Little Feng herself, and Su goes after them both. Can he save his family and stop Yuan without killing him?
Yuen Woo Ping is back in Iron Monkey form, folks, having lost none of his imaginative choreography. Almost every fight in this film would have been the climatic fight of many others. Woo Ping has scenes with Su and the God of Wushu that uses just about every damn weapon chinese martial arts has. There is a fight in a well that has to be seen to be believed. As for Beggar Su’s drunken style, this is some of the best drunken style fighting you’ll see. It stands right next to Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s best versions of the style. Particularly when you see Jay Chou go at it, also playing the Drunken God. The camerawork is beautifully done, and some of the set designs are nothing short of terrific.
Vincent Zhao gives a great, heartfelt performance as a man whose successes create his own downfall. He’s a good man, and it will pain you to see what horrible things happen to him. Andy On is a perfect bastard as Yuan. He’s at once needy like a child and brutally evil at the same time. He even gets to be all creepy Uncle to Little Feng. Gordon Liu was disappointing as he doesn’t do much more than drink, point at Su and laugh. The same goes for Michelle Yeoh, who basically has a walk-on role. What wasn’t disappointing was when David Carradine, that’s right, Qui Chang F***ing Kang shows up as the ringleader for a bunch of overgrown wrestlers who take on Beggar Su. Thankfully Carradine doesn’t try to attempt any martial arts. There isn’t enough choreography in Woo Ping’s Magic Bag of Tricks that could make him look good. Jay Chou is fantastic in his dual roles, and I had no idea his kung-fu was so good.
If there is one drawback it’s the story, primarily toward the end of the film, where the movie goes from being the fun of Iron Monkey to being serious like Jet Li’s Fearless. The main story ends after 90 minutes, but we get 30 minutes of Su being, well, Beggar Su, but it seems as if we’re getting the start–or end–of a different film altogether. Also, his son cries too damn much. I was almost hoping a stray punch, or Venom fist, would knock this kid out just to shut him up.
Despite the nit picky flaws, True Legend is a fun martial arts film that shows that the master himself still has it. He simply needs to do his own stuff from now on. It’s well worth your money to go and see the Master at work.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Woo Ping does some of his best work here, perhaps his best since Fearless. Everyone does a fantastic job, and Jay Chou and Vincent Zhao’s fights are memorable. Smooth and flowing, each fight sings its own song, and it never forgets what’s at stake for the characters.
STUNTWORK: (8) The stunts here are terrific, and the wirework is just astounding, but never gets in the way of the fights themselves.
STAR POWER: (9) Vincent Zhao’s primary work lately has been on TV, and he was the star of Once Upon A Time in China 4 and 5 before Jet returned to the series, but this film shows that Zhao deserves to be a star in his own right. Jay Chou is a revelation here, and Gordon Liu and Michelle Yeoh are always a joy to see. Oh yeah, that Carradine guy is in it too.
FINAL GRADE: (9) This film can stand tall next to any of Woo-Ping’s films. Fun and exciting, you’ll never get bored, and the action never gets stale. Only the last 30 minutes keeps this one from being perfect. We need to get both Jay Chou and Vincent Zhao into more martial arts films…
NEXT: Who is the Dragon Warrior? Why, Kung Fu Panda, that’s who!