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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.18%
Worth A Look72.73%
Average: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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True Legend
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by Jay Seaver

"Yeun Woo-ping brings the big action because that's what he does."
4 stars

As the English-language title suggests, "True Legend" is based upon an actual historical figure, although I strongly suspect that he is, as they say, being "used fictitiously". After all, you don't go to a Yuen Woo-ping movie for historical accuracy, but for martial-arts madness, and on that count, he delivers - perhaps more than the movie can handle.

A prince has been kidnapped, and it's up to the kingdom's bravest soldier, Su Can (Chiu Man-cheuk, credited as "Vincent Zhao"), to save him. This he does, with the help of friend Ma Quingfeng (Guo Xiaodong) and foster brother Yuan Lie (Andy On). He declines a promotion in order to return home to wife Ying (Zhou Xun) - also Yuan's sister - and start a family and teach wushu. Five years later, Yuan returns, not to see his nephew, but to avenge the death of his father at the hands of Su's. Body and spirit broken, Su will need the ministrations of the reclusive Dr. Yu (Michelle Yeoh) and the training of the mysterious "Old Sage" ("Gordon" Liu Chia Hui) and "God of Wushu" (Jay Chou) in order to return home and rescue little Feng from the clutches of his ever-more deranged uncle.

Many will recall Yuen Woo-ping for his work as action director for films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, and Kill Bill and expect gravity-defying wire-fu. And while he hasn't directed a movie in nearly fifteen years, longtime fans will remember some of Yuen's earlier Hong Kong work, which while not so elegant, have an over-the-top, anything-goes energy like little else. True Legend has a heaping helping of both, with the opening gambit amazing but too disrespectful of the laws of physics, but once Yuan returns, we're getting stuff like "Five Venom Fists" and "Black Gold Armor" that are even more outrageous than they sound.

No matter whether the action is in a more realistic or fantastical mode, it's pretty amazing. There's a reason why A-list directors from around the world hire Yuen Woo-ping and his team when they need great fight scenes; there really is nobody better at making a fight larger-than-life and hard-hitting. They're confident enough in their team and cast to do a lot of medium shots that show great execution of impressive choreography. Vincent Zhao, in particular, looks really good in the fight scenes, believably taking on multiple opponents and selling it whether working with swords or fists. Andy On isn't quite in Zhao's league, but makes a good showing for himself, and his character has "Iron Twin" henchpeople to pick up the slack (I hope to see Luxia Jiang and "Will" Liu Genghong in bigger roles soon). The fights themselves are fun and creative, making interesting use of different environments.

What's perhaps a little surprising is that the stuff around the fights is better than you might otherwise expect. The opening scenes around the rescue give a really nice look at the tension between Su Can and Yuan Lie, with Vincent Zhao and Andy On playing the scenes well enough that the audience can't miss Yuan's simmering resentment and anger, but also believe in how Su's decent nature allows him to completely discount it, even after being told Yuan is a loose cannon. Zhao's scenes with Zhou Xun are also rather a joy to watch; these scenes with the hero and his wife can sometimes feel perfunctory, but the two have genuine chemistry together, so that when Ying asks Su not to kill Yuan even after everything and he says he will try, it feels real and earned, rather than things such characters are obligated to say. And since this is a grand opera of a movie, it's only fitting that the actors play it large - Andy On tears into Yuan's mania and revels in it, going deliciously large with the villainy. Vincent Zhao doesn't match him in the ranting department, but he's a good enough screen fighter that his emotion comes out in his fighting. The movie also has a fairly star-studded supporting cast, including Michelle Yeoh, Jay Chou, Gordon Liu, David Carradine (who turns in a great Evil White Guy in the last act), and Feng Xiaogang (who isn't well known in the West, but a hugely popular director in China) in what are basically cameo roles.

The sprawling cast gives an indication of the movie's scale, which in a way works against the movie. While the bulk of "Christine" To Chi-long's script is focused on Su Can's battle to rescue his son from Yuan, there's more to the story, and the movie goes on for a while after the climax. It's good stuff, but the audience may be impatient because the movie seemed to be done, and this feels like it should be the sequel. The filmmakers' laudable ambition also seems to be stretched by some of the effects shots; while some look very good, and some are acceptable (the blades flying in slow motion aren't perfect, but they work), there are a couple embarrassing moments when actors are composited into environments and their feet don't quite seem to touch the ground. It's not all bad, of course - even during those moments, the movie never looks cheap or lazy, and Yuen and company use effects well more often than not.

All around, it's a blast, a crazy old-school wushu movie about a folk hero's legend writ large, given an impressive budget and a filmmaker willing to go for broke with it. In some ways, the flaws keep it from straying too far from its roots - the best of those movies always packed in enough pure entertainment that the budget for details seemed to suffer. Fortunately, that gap isn't nearly so wide here; "True Legend" is enjoyable for more than big wushu action.

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originally posted: 05/17/11 04:56:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Astana International Action Film Festival For more in the 2010 Astana International Action Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

5/07/14 MatthewThompsonDalldorf Eye-popping action! 5 stars
8/11/12 Josie Cotton is a goddess A must of all kung-fu fans! 5 stars
9/28/11 damalc best MA film i've seen in a long time. movies like this are why Woo-ping Yuen is the king. 4 stars
9/18/11 mr.mike Bloody martial arts action , well filmed. 4 stars
5/23/11 Ming Great action story..The fight is tense and realistic 3 stars
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  13-May-2011 (R)
  DVD: 13-Sep-2011



Directed by
  Woo-ping Yuen

Written by
  Chi-long To

  Vincent Zhao
  Xun Zhou
  Andy On
  Michelle Yeoh
  David Carradine

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