Monday, December 12, 2011

True Legend (2010)

Title: True Legend (2010)

Director: Yuen Woo Ping


In the world of Kung Fu Movies, we have two kinds of films: those that stick close to reality and those that go completely out there and get all wrapped up in Chinese fantasy and folklore. This is not surprising considering how rich Chinese cultures is with all it’s myths, gods, and ghosts. These are really my favorite type of Kung Fu flick because I am a huge fan of fantasy films; I love ‘em to death. I guess it’s the escapist element that I love about them. I love how you can completely immerse yourself in a fantastical world that the filmmakers have created, if they do it right of course. True Legend got it right, in my opinion!

Funny thing about this Kung Fu flick is that it polarized audiences. Chinese audiences apparently hated this one; some going as far as calling it one of the worst Kung Fu movies ever made.  The film didn’t make its 20 million budget back. It was a major failure in its home country. Yet in a strange turn of events, American audiences embraced the film, calling it an instant cult classic when it was recently released on dvd. I guess Chinese people have seen so many martial arts films; that when a generic one comes along, they instantly deem it as “terrible”. I understand what they mean about that. I did find True Legend to be like so many other films that came before it. It was like a mixture of Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master (1978), like Donnie Yen’s Ip Man (2008) and every other Kung Fu movie in which the hero gets the hell kicked out of him, only to go through a training and “resurrection” process, until, blamo! He’s ready for revenge! Then it’s all about that final showdown between good and evil. This was also the basic plot for Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle (2004), another excellent Kung Fu film I highly recommend.

What happens with most movies is that they feed off of each other and at times feel repetitive. I think that is unavoidable, especially in the world of genre films where films have to stick to a certain type of structure. So given the repetitive nature of these films, what matters then is how you tell your story and taking care to add those little touches that make it different. The most innovative element for me on this one was a character called Yuan Ying, the main villain. He’s an evil ruler, with zombie white flesh and an armor sewed onto his skin. The coolest thing is that his special iron skin makes him partially invulnerable during sword fights! This was just an awesome idea and a cool visual as well. To top things off, Yuan Ying has this ability to absorb venom from scorpions onto his hands, and then through his Kung Fu blows, he transmits said venom onto his opponent! The villain is the most memorable thing about the film.

The good guy, a character called Su Can is one tainted with tragedy in his life. His life is so filled with sorrow, that some think he has gone mad! The best part about this character is that he gets trained by the ‘God of Wushu’ himself! Problem is that since he trains with this God in his mind, others think he is crazy when they see him fighting by himself. The training sequences with the God of Kung Fu were awesome and outlandish; they fight on top of giant statues and mystical landscapes. Then, Su Can goes through another phase in which he learns Drunken Boxing, which is a Martial Arts technique in which the fighter fights as if he was drunk. In some films about Drunken Boxing, the practitioner of Drunken Boxing actually gets drunk and fights this way. The drunken state is supposed to augment his fighting ability and looseness during the fight. Last time I saw this was in Jackie Chan’s Legend of Drunken Master (1994), which by the way, in my opinion is Jackie Chan’s best film. When you see the Drunken Boxing sequences in True Legend, you’ll be reminded of Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master movies. This makes perfect sense when we take in consideration that the director behind True Legend is martial art choreographer Yuen Woo Ping, who got one of his first directing credits in 1978, when he directed Jackie Chan in the first Drunken Master film. Yuen Woo Ping is a legend of Kung Fu movies; he’s choreographed/directed so many memorable ones! He’s even choreographed scenes for Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. II (2004). So hey, at least you know you have a master martial arts choreographer working out the Kung Fu moves on this film.

Yuen Woo Ping (right) choreographs a scene

This film was promoted in China as being “the first Chinese 3-D film ever”, sadly even with that gimmick attached to it the film tanked at the box office. American audiences are only discovering it now that’s it’s been release on DVD. I personally though the movie was entertaining even though it was similar to other films that came before it. I enjoyed the fantasy elements, the fights, the effects, but I also enjoyed the emotion behind the story. At its core this is a film about a father protecting his family from an intruder who wants to defile the purity and love of the family unit. True, the film does pay more attention to the Kung Fu choreography than to character development, but this is far from being one a bad Kung Fu movie.  I’d recommend it if you want to see a big budget Kung Fu Flick with tons of action! It might be formulaic, but it didn’t skimp on production values, style and entertainment. A highlight of the film is a fight that takes place on a platform, next to a real life roaring waterfall! They really filmed in that location, and they used the real actors hanging from cables, the results were impressive! I also liked the action sequence that opens the movie. It’s a scene where Su Can invades an enemy fortress to rescue a queen…amazing action and martial arts choreography right there. So in spite of True Legend’s ‘flaws’ I would say that it will become a cult classic, sure to be enjoyed by many Kung Fu fans for generations to come.

Rating: 4 out of 5  

The God of Wushu


George Beremov [Nebular] said...

Saw this one an year ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yuen Woo Ping is a sheer genius in terms of choreography, and he does a good job as a director as well.

Sadly though, "True Legend" was very overlooked by both critics and audience. Great review!

Franco Macabro said...

Chinese audiences must have felt like they'd seen this movie a million times before, because its so similar, but honestly, I dont get all the hatred, this movie was fun as hell, non stop action sequences...and that scene where the characters fight inside of a water well...that was pretty original as well.

Black music said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Thanks!

Thoughts black

Franco Macabro said...

Black Music: Glad you've been enjoying the blog! I aim to please! I post every other day, on weekends I take a breather. I will be posting a new review today for a film called "Shaolin", an excellent Kung Fu film I might add, so check that out if you like later during the day.


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