If the Milky Way had an ass, True Legend would find a way to kick it. That’s right folks, the latest film from famed director and martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, is damned fine action entertainment. The director of Iron Monkey is working once again in the elaborate, super-powered Wushu milieu, with beautifully elaborate fight sequences goosed with lighter-than-air jumps and deadly, literally venomous fists, but this time adds in some of the classic old Wing Chun history lessons, telling a story about more than just the characters but kung fu itself, specifically the development of the Drunken Fist style, of which many a Jackie Chan fan has become fond. The results are balls to the wall glorious, if decidedly imperfect.
The plot is utterly disjointed but easy to follow and neatly dramatic: Sun Can (The Blade’s Vincent Zhao) begins the film as a heroic general who saves the prince from his enemy’s unusually gothic doom fortress, but when he’s offered the position of governor in return for this heroism he instead retires to raise a family, leaving the position to his foster brother, Yuan Lie. Andy On plays the foster brother, who returns home years later utterly corrupted by malice against his adopted father (who killed Yuan Lie’s real father, himself a murderer) along with his newfound mastery of the Five Venoms Fist, which kills with a forceful touch. Yuan Lie massacres Sun Can’s family save for his own sister and nephew, and leaves Sun Can crippled. Years go by as Sun Can descends into madness, developing a new martial art under the tutelage of a perhaps-imaginary Wushu god (The Green Hornet’s Jay Chou) and under the influence of copious amounts of wine, but upon finally returning for revenge against his brother, unexpected tragedy strikes once more.
At this point I started looking at my watch, assuming the film must be about over, but no, there was 40 minutes left to go. The final act, set well after the deliciously mythic betrayal storyline, takes a while to get going and has little to do with the former plot and everything to do with Sun Can’s redemption, unconnected to the main plotline though it may be. It’s bizarrely experimental, and not entirely successful, but it does allow Yuen Woo-ping more time to concoct increasingly harrowing martial arts showdowns with evil western wrestlers.
It could be argued that Yuen Woo-ping has directed more intricate fight films before, and they’d be right. But that’s like saying “Eruption” is a more impressive Eddie Van Halen solo than “Spanish Fly.” Maybe, maybe not, but they’re both praiseworthy anyway. The director is aided by one of his more dramatic storylines, a strong cast, and some fanciful design work. Yuan Lie has sewn vile armor into his very chest, and stomps menacingly about the luscious sets in utterly fabulous robes that I absolutely must own for myself, no matter how poorly I would wear them in comparison. The CGI is pretty good for a Chinese film – that is to say, somewhat substandard by American standards – and amounts to a minor distraction at worst.
True Legend floats onto Blu-Ray in a beautiful transfer full of color and detail, and one of the best surround sound presentations I’ve been privy to in a long, long time. Whooshing fists and complex crunches fly from speaker to speaker with such verve that it’s going to be one of my new demo discs for when I have company over and my self-esteem is low enough that showing off my sound system for no particular reason actually seems like a good idea. The disc comes with a some decent special features, including storyboard-to-film comparisons and an entirely unnecessary music video, but it’s the film that you’ll be revisiting over and over again.
Despite the messy structure and occasionally inconsistent production values, True Legend remains one of the better martial arts films I’ve seen in the last few years. I’m a little perplexed by its cold reception in China, where it grossed about a third of its budget, but hey, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn't do too well over there either (although I actually I think it's a little overrated, myself). True Legend is a luscious film with superior fight choreography and an absolute must for fans of the genre.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (Film): 8/10
CRAVEONLINE RATING (Blu-Ray): 9.5/10