“True Legend” / 《苏乞儿》- Exclusive Review [Sweet & Sour Cinema / Sweet & Sour Cinema Exclusive Review]

True Legend / 苏乞儿 -- Chinese poster (Source: Filmovonline.net)

“True Legend”(2010)–  Review by Zuo Shou 左手

Directed by Yuen Woo-ping

Starring:  Chiu Man-Cheuk [Vincent Zhao], Zhou Xun, Andy On

Review of Mandarin, English-subtitled 2-D version seen in 2010

Releasing a review now, as the film currently has a limited release in the US.

“True Legend”, I’m sorry to report, is a true disappointment.  This film was a box-office flop in China, and even its classy bilingual website is now defunct as the film is released in North America.

Sadly, this film held multiple potentials that it just couldn’t fulfill.   Reknowned martial arts director Yuen Woo-ping was returning to the “Drunken Fist” style that was so iconic a few decades back in his legendary “Drunken Master” collaboration with young Jackie Chan.  Vincent Zhao was primed for a comeback.  David Carradine is seen in his final role (ok, maybe not too much promise in that).  There’s cameos by an array of martial arts film icons.  The story isbased on a colorful legend of an impoverished martial arts master, perhaps empowering in a time of global impoverishment when the poor have hardly been more invisible.  And 3-D martial arts!

Well, after this film’s release lets just say Steven Chow’s comical, Kurosawan assaying of the Su Qi-er legend “King of Beggars” is in no danger of losing its ranking as the top cinematic take on the subject.

Critics, in their enthusiasm to review this one, are overlooking that Yuen Woo-ping is just the director, not the action director here.  That should be enough to raise qualifiers, as his directorial efforts have been a decided mixed bag and sometimes dilutes his martial-arts-choreographing strength.   There are 2 action sequences that undoubtedly satisfy – one rolling on the edge of a waterfall and a (literally) ripping 2nd act chain-wrapped-fist-in-the-face brawl that still ends too abruptly –  but in my opinion they don’t make it a good film.

Still from "True Legend" w/ Andy On, Vincent Zhao (M1905.com / CRIEnglish.com)

The film’s major fault here is in the screenplay, which takes risks required to juice up the  the martial arts film genre (mainly in a conceptually interesting, if cinematically flat, extended sequence dramatizing the internal psychic struggle that great talents and / or substance abusers could go through).  Yuen Woo-ping does seem to have some noble conceptual intent involving the highs and lows of seeking martial arts perfection.  But while cheer-worthy, these risks undo themselves in a progressively deflating sequence of events that approaches dramatic absolute zero in a Heilongjiang East-West battle of no apparent significance and which is lamer than those seen in any number of recent productions (the Ip Man films, for instance) which tend to wind up in an “international” martial arts arena.

I was happy to see Vincent Zhao get another chance to deploy his excellent martial arts on the big screen after being stuck for a while in Hong Kong TV productions.  Unfortunately, he’s undone in what I foresee as his final leading cinematic role by a 100% humor-free production and a character arc that starts at a dizzying extreme (super-competent general) and plunges into a bedraggled alcoholic vortex…and seemingly crawls in that state to the final credits, despite an anti-climactic pseudo-restoration.

The “Drunken Fist” premise never develops properly, as that martial arts style is essentially a comical manifestation and this rather grim production seemingly exists to wipe the smile right off your face.  It doesn’t bring anything fresh to the motif except a boozy break-dance spins, which hands Vincent Zhao’s considerable skills over to some rag-clad b-boy double.

The cameos are practically all wastes.  Michelle Yeoh has about 5 lines total.  Gordon Liu, of the “36 Chambers” pantheon, cackles and hands out exactly one platitude before evaporating into a puff of CGI.  David Carradine, in his final role, goes out with a B-actor whimper as a kind of autocratic fight promoter  —   jabbing his Western gladiators with needles and unconvincingly barking out stilted English such as “You lose, don’t even think about going home!”  Appealing Zhou Xun as Su Qi-er’s wife is similarly given nearly nothing to do but fret about if her dipsomaniac husband is brilliant or merely insane.

Jay Chou is there for the younger set and brings the smug superiority that is his fundamental affect as Taiwanese Mandopop royalty.  Well, here he IS the “God of Wushu”.  And he’s got a dual role for double the smugness!  And he’s obviously doubled in action sequences, making the smugness that much less palatable.

The film is not a total ruin due to the aforementioned couple of good fights and an imposing villain (Andy On), who has poisonous fists and body armor stitched into his flesh.  His motives are dramatic poison, however.

This film might tide you over if have low expectations.  If you really want to see a True Legend, research Yuen Woo-ping’s past body of work (see the like-minded review of “True Legend” by Mark Pollard at Kung Fu Cinema for more on that) and pass on this B-movie…which could have been so much better .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: