Hong Kong, 2010: True Legend
“True Legend,” aka “The Legend of Beggar Su”
Hong Kong, 2010
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Wuxia
Yuen Woo-Ping returns to directing with this re-imagining of Beggar Su, the legendary creator of Drunken Fist Kung Fu.
Heralding a revival of Hong Kong choreography, True Legend isn’t much more than a fun romp through wuxia tropes and clichés. Similar to the recent film The Expendables, Yuen Woo-Ping pulls out all the stops in this genre revival. Unlike Stallon’s movie, however, it’s difficult to determine how aware of the contrived plot devices Yuen is, since the movie is played entirely straight, without Stallone’s sense of self-aware campiness. Every scene in True Legend is overdramatic and epic, and is often acted as such on screen. There isn’t much of grounding in realism as one of the villains has armor sewn directly into his skin, and the ridiculousness takes off from there.
The plot is predictable and is essentially a re-hash of Jet Li’s Fearless with different characters and slight story changes. Essentially, it is the same story of redemption through kung fu that has been done again and again throughout the decades, complete with stereotypical characters: the ambitiously evil martial artist, the devoted wife, and even the muscle-bound foreign devils. The actors do what they can with the material, but strong performances by Vincent Zhao and Zhou Xun as husband and wife only highlights the absurdity of the whole movie. Michelle Yeoh and David Carradine make much appreciated cameo appearances, hoping to draw viewers based solely on name recognition. However, their presence isn’t enough to really help the film along, as neither does much in the way of plot elements, and neither is part of any action scene.
On the subject of the action, Yuen does demonstrate his chops in the fight department. The choreography is superb, and it is shot and edited exceptionally well. Wire-fu isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy it, you will witness the best in the market today. The characters’ fighting styles are all distinct and play off each other fantastically. Pop idol Jay Chou even gets the chance to flex his wushu skills for the camera. With great rhythm and superb pacing, the fights really could have saved the production. However, the action is spoiled as Yuen consistently overuses obvious CGI effects to add atmosphere and background. Furthermore, in parallel to overdramatizing the story, the number of times fighters spit up blood from a blow to the midsection becomes painfully repetitive.
The film is genuinely enjoyable if viewed with the right mindset, but otherwise comes off as bland and uninspired. The action is impressive and the actors give it their best, but True Legend on a whole is a weekend rental at best.