TRUE LEGEND (2010) is a truly polarizing film. You either love it or you really hate it. To be honest, I’ve been to both extremes. When I first watched it I was amazed that after eighty awesome minutes of throwback fun, everything got dumped for an overly nationalistic ending that felt like a FEARLESS rip-off. Ironic since Christine To wrote both films. When you consider how the film opened, the ending definitely feels lackluster. After watching this a second time, I actually liked it much better. It is oddly structured, but in a way it works and there’s a quiet logic about the development of Su Can that’s worth noting. For those who don’t know, Su Can is Beggar Su, a real person and one of the Ten Tigers of Canton. He is known for his proficiency of drunken fist boxing. This film is about his transformation from general to national (drunken) hero.
TRUE LEGEND starts perfect. The opening battle, which involves the rescue of a young prince, is just crazy, with people flying, kicking, stabbing and falling all over the place. Director Yuen Woo-Ping shows the contrasting styles of Su Can and Yuan Lie in this scene. These two start on the same team, but their friendship quickly disintegrates. Let me tell you, Andy On’s villainous Yuan Lie is THE reason to see this. This is a classic old-school style villain, but with modern production values. Yuan is a complete character that you can understand and enjoy. Su has to train day and night so he can overcome Yuan’s powerful Five Venom Fists and save the day. In the first eighty minutes or so, Woo Ping and company put together a wonderful, mystical martial arts world with supernatural powers and crazy kung fu masters. Then, suddenly, everything changes. We fast-forward into a completely different world that is a brutal, darker place where bad guys no longer have special powers, they get injections. Overall, the major turn of events is necessary for Su’s development.
The change in tone could easily be symbolic of what Su was going through. The mystical martial arts world is gone because of him. They are connected. Or it could be symbolic of foreigners and modernity killing the old world. Or it’s just lazy, sell-out filmmaking. Regardless, the final act is still important. Why? Because due to the events in Su’s life and how he was connected to wine through it all, he drinks now to forget AND remember. In fact, you could say his development of Drunken Fist is a tribute to his past. As for the finale, where he battles a bunch of brute wrestlers in an arena, I learned more about this by watching an interview by the late David Carradine. Carradine explains that his fighters are actually death row inmates who he hires to fight. If they lose, they go back. This explains why they fight so ruthlessly. If this exposition was in the movie, I missed it. Action wise, Su Can, now transformed into Beggar Su, uses a lot of kick combos against the wrestlers that are fun to watch. The B-boy stuff doesn’t work, but that’s because they didn’t use it right.
This is a unique throw-back film that, judging from poor box office returns, we probably won’t see more of. The failure of TRUE LEGEND can partially be attributed to only part of the movie being converted to 3D. Certain cinemas did not want to carry a film where someone had to tell the audience when to put the glasses on. And again, some could see this as a FEARLESS rip-off. It took me a bit to come around, but this film has plenty to love. You have a consistent helping of action, a great villain in Andy On, beautiful landscapes, and drunken fist (even if it’s spoiled a little with fake b-boy spins). It may not have the depth of FEARLESS, but it’s a lot of fun. Check it out!
*** ½ out of *****
Note: The Vivendi Blu-Ray release is pretty good. The interviews actually helped me appreciate the film more. I‘m glad they included a David Carradine interview, which was VERY good. The total amount of behind the scenes stuff isn’t vast, but it’s all quality. I have no idea about the QR code business, my phone isn’t smart enough.
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