True Legend (2010) Review

"True Legend" American Theatrical Poster

"True Legend" American Theatrical Poster

Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Writer: Christine To Chi Long
Producer: Bill Kong Chi Keung
Cast: Vincent Chiu Man Chuk, Zhou Xun, Andy On, Jay Chou Kit Lun, Michelle Yeoh, Leung Kar Yan, Jiang Lu Xia, Gordon Liu, David Carradine, Guo Xiao Dong, Feng Xiaogang, Jacky Heung Cho, Le Cung, Will Liu Keng Hung, Yan Ni
Running Time: 116 min.

By HKFanatic

Tell me again why Vincent Zhao never became as big as Jet Li? Despite starring in movies like Tsui Hark’s cult classic “The Blade” and the underrated martial arts flick “Fist Power,” Vincent Zhao’s star never really shined as bright as many of his peers. Yuen Woo-Ping’s latest film, the 2010 mystical kung fu epic “True Legend,” then, is Zhao’s chance to steal the spotlight: the movie is 2 hours of Zhao doing nothing but kicking ass and taking names.

The film actually features several great onscreen martial artists: Andy On (“Bad Blood“), Cung Le (“Bodyguards & Assassins“), Luxia Jiang (“Coweb“), Jay Chou. Well, I thought Jay Chou (Kato in the latest “Green Hornet” film) was just a singer-turned-actor but Yuen Woo-Ping saw fit to cast him as “The God of Wushu” so Ping must know something I don’t. To be fair, this is probably my favorite role of Chou’s.

Since the story is essentially an homage to classic Shaw Brothers movies, we also get a few cameos from old-school greats like Gordon Liu (“36th Chamber of Shaolin“) and Leung Kar Yan (“Five Shaolin Masters“). Rounding out the all-star cast is Michelle Yeoh and David Carradine in walk-on roles. It’s nice to have them in the film but I bet their paychecks were embarrassingly large for what amounts to less than 5 minutes of screentime.

Like any kung fu movie worth its salt, “True Legend” spins a twisted tale of revenge and redemption. Vincent Zhao plays a great military general during the waning years of the Qing Dynasty. He retires to a quiet life of teaching Wushu and lets his brother-in-law (Andy On), who’s always felt he was in Zhao’s shadow, take up position as governor. The years pass and Andy On returns, now infused with the dark power of the Five Venom Fists, his skin turned a ghastly Dracula white as a result. Andy still holds a grudge against Zhao and decides to take what he believes is rightfully his – and a bloody battle ensues. If you’re getting the hunch that Vincent Zhao is going to have to train for years and years to find a way to defeat the Five Venom Fists, then you’ve seen your share of martial arts movies too.

Had Yuen Woo-Ping stuck with this storyline and expanded on it a bit – explained why Andy On’s character became so evil and explored his tragic childhood with Vincent Zhao – I might have even given “True Legend” a solid 10/10. For better or worse, the film pulls an “Ip Man 2” towards the end and tacks on an extended third act in which Chinese martial artists must defend their pride against burly Westerners. It’s the scene where Jet Li fought Nathan Jones in “Fearless,” extrapolated to thirty minutes. The action here is still fun to watch but it’s not like seeing Vincent Zhao fight Andy On in a life or death battle at the one hour mark – two immensely skilled opponents fighting with lethal precision. Their extended fight scene is definitely the highlight of the film and a showcase for Yuen Woo-Ping’s ace choreography. The final 30 minutes don’t quite match that thrill; “True Legend’s” one glaring flaw is that it doesn’t quit when the going’s good.

Regardless, the entire film is full of excellent, wire-assisted martial arts battles. The emphasis here is on R-rated blows to the head and lethal stabbings rather than balletic, dance-like moves. The performances are decent, even if the script tends to rush through anything resembling character development. Actress Zhou Xun is almost unbearably gorgeous as Vincent Zhao’s loyal wife; it’s the kind of role usually reserved for Fan Bingbing but Xun is given much more to do here than just dote on her husband. Computer-generated backgrounds are a frequent eyesore – perhaps Yuen Woo-Ping was going for the whole “300” digital backdrop feel – but they’re easy enough to overlook.

What makes “True Legend” so enjoyable is that doesn’t feel like a 2010 film at all. At its heart, it’s a throwback to the classic Shaw Brothers films, with their tales of deadly techniques and treebark-smashing punches, and a celebration of Yuen Woo-Ping’s fight choreography. If you can tolerate some less than stellar special effects and a disjointed third act, “True Legend” is a damn good time at the movies. With any luck, it will lead to more high profile projects for underdog Vincent Zhao. This is a martial arts flick for people who love martial arts flicks.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 8.5/10

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4 Responses to True Legend (2010) Review

  1. Masterofoneinchpunch says:

    I’m pretty surprised (I shouldn’t be) by many of the negative reviews I have read from IMDB and elsewhere. I had a lot of fun with the film.

    Many films don’t use a three-act structure especially Hong Kong movies (David Bordwell has a nice analysis of plot construction based on reels in his Planet Hong Kong; his second version of the book is even better) and this film’s last act is really the fourth. But I digress, I had not problem with what it attempted in its last act, it just seemed to go towards the nationalistic aspect which has been so prevalent in HK/Mainland coproductions and Mainland films. Also it felt a little Fearless to me as well (and many reviewers of the film). The fourth act was the establish more of the legend, but it didn’t have to go this somewhat tired route. Also it didn’t help using slow and large wrestlers who felt like a throwback to WWF (not WWE :D). Now I still enjoyed it, but felt it was a step down from the rest of the film.

    A small complaint, with all the money being spent you would think that the CGI would be of a better quality (seriously I watched The Storm Riders a week ago and the distance between the two isn’t that great).

    Good review (of course helped by that I agree with you :D).

    • HKFanatic says:

      Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed the review (and the movie!). You’re right, the last 30 minutes really is a fourth act. I’d seen a few reviews refer to it as both a third and fourth act so I figured I’d go with what people were most familiar with. There is even the occasional Hollywood movie with a fourth act (2006’s “Casino Royale”?).

      You’re right, those wrestlers didn’t quite match the intimidation level of someone like Nathan Jones in “Fearless” or “The Protector.” In fact, they looked more overweight than muscular, lol.

      I’ll have to look for that Planet Hong Kong book. Sounds like it’d be right up my alley.

  2. Masterofoneinchpunch says:

    I think that reviewers/critics sometimes just get lazy and repeat things like “three acts” (imagine calling Lawrence of Arabia a film with three acts) and other various wrong firsts like first sound film, first independent director etc… just because these things have been bandied about. I know sometimes it is nitpicking (and if in the future when I get too nitpicky please forgive me :)), but the amount of bad information out there gets a little annoying (not saying you; just saying out there). Bordwell’s wife Kristin Thompson has stated in her book Storytelling that many Hollywood films have four acts (films around two hours); this is also mentioned in Bordwell’s book Minding Movies (I have the only review on Amazon). This is a somewhat controversial view (for the two hour film not ones like Cleopatra or different structured approach like Slackers.

    Planet Hong Kong is my favorite book on Hong Kong cinema. The second version is on pdf only and is the version to get since he fixed several errors, it has color, more pictures, an updated section (I love the Johnnie To addition) and I’m mentioned in the thanks section :D. My second favorite book is Stephen Teo’s Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions which I also highly recommend.

  3. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    Good review my friend! The last part was disjointed, but as a whole the film was pretty good! The knock on Vincent Zhao was his wooden acting but I think it was trying to follow in Jet Li’s foot steps in the Once Upon A Time In China series. The unflattering opinions towards his acting ability as compared to Jet Li probably had some adverse effects towards the roles he was offered. Vincent Zhao’s Wong Fei Hung, was pretty good in OUATIC 5, after his introductory role in OUATIC 4. Kind of like Lazensby following Connery, he will eventually be appreciated. Zhao was great in this movie as well as ” The Blade “, and ” The Legend “. Again good review, and good rating. Carridine’s acting was a complete over the top ham performance, loved it!

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