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Original Title:
Su Qi-Er

China 2010

Martial Arts

Yuen Woo-ping

Vincent Zhao
Zhou Xun
Andy On
Michelle Yeoh
Jay Chou
Gordon Liu
David Carradine
Guo Xiaodong
Leung Ka-Yan
Jiang Luxia
Will Liu

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True Legend

Story: Su Can (Vincent Zhao) is a warrior in the Qing army and after having freed the prince of the country he is supposed to get promoted. However, he has no interest in something like that but instead leaves the new post he was about to get to his adopted brother Yuan (Andy On). Su Can just wants to start a family with Yuan's sister Ying (Zhou Xun) and open his own martial arts school.
Five years later Yuan returns home and kills Su Can's father, because that person killed his father when he was still a child whereafter he adopted him out of pity. Yuan has undergone serious changes, especially because of the Five Venom Fist that he learned during the last five years and which makes him a dreadful fighter. Su Can faces him and loses. He and his wife are washed away by a torrent and their common son is left in the hands of Yuan who makes him his new family. In the mountains Su Can and Ying are saved by a healer (Michelle Yeoh), eventually, and Su Can starts his training with the God of Wushu (Jay Chou). Ying has reservations letting him train, though, since she fears that Su Can has become mad and that the God of Wushu is only existing in his mind...

Review: After almost fifteen years director and martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping is taking a seat on the director's chair again. Meanwhile, the man who could celebrate great success with "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow" and "Tai Chi Master" has only been working as a choreographer these days and has worked on many successful Hollywood productions like the "Matrix"-trilogy of course or "Kill Bill". However, the constant high level he showed with his choreography he couldn't keep up as a director. Time and again he also brought only moderate movies to the screen. Therefore, it isn't easy to simply label "True Legend" a disappointment. Actually, it isn't easy to rate this movie at all. "True Legend" manages to return to the times of good ol' kung fu flicks and technically he pulls out all the stops to create a modern big budget production. This mixture in fact works out well. The only problematic thing is the unexpected last part of the film that orientates itself by elements of movies like "Fearless" and "Ip Man" a little too much.

The strength of "True Legend" surely doesn't lie in its story. You have already seen it in many modifications. Unfortunately, the character of the villian also proves to be quite caricatural. At least he somehow reminds us of a character right out of a anime because of his pecularities. Creating this impression is the heavy makeup, the fighting style of the Five Venom Fist and the armor plates that are stitched right to the skin. Of course Su Can loses in his first fight against him and after that he and his wife end up in a peaceful idyll in which Su tries to regain his powers and become even mightier than before. If you take a closer look you will even notice that the scene in which we see the transition of the different seasons aided by computergenerated time lapse are already out of the book of "Fearless". Here, some more questionable decisions of the director start to show, too. Michelle Yeoh has a supporting role as a healer without ever being allowed to show a little bit of her martial arts expertise.

Also onboard the cast is Gordon Liu in a supporting role and he isn't allowed to prove his martial arts skills either. Instead Jay Chou (!), popstar by trade and actor of such movies as "Secret" and the american popcorn flick "The Green Hornet", is playing the God of Wushu! Anyway, you can't fight the feeling that something went wrong here. But Yuen Woo-ping's great martial arts choreography, which after all those years is still standing out with immense inventiveness and an impressive dynamic, makes everyone in the movie look like a martial arts expert. Yuen might be using wires in his fights every now and then, but this isn't bothersome at all as the fundamental tone of his fights is a down-to-earth one, that means that they in itself are oozing out the essence of martial arts with some impressive moves the kind of you can actually perform. They are merely enriched and brought to extremes by the use of wires and some computergenerated special effects. Eye-catching are the frequent zoom-ins and the dynamic camera work that makes the fights even more interesting.

It's also because of the fights that it's hard not to like "True Legend". We get something old in a new wrapping and martial arts fans will make leaps for joy. The movie's story is stumbling on many decisions of the scriptwriter which he hadn't given much thought. The most apparent problem of the film, mentioned by numerous critics already, is arising after the obvious showdown between Su Can and Yuan. Because after that the movie isn't over, but instead it is shown how Beggar Su is finding his way to Drunken Kung Fu. Sure, since the movie is more or less centering around the development of Drunken Kung Fu, although the viewer has already forgotten about that after two thirds of the movie never even touching that topic, the last third of the film is actually indespensable. However, it simply doesn't fit into the mood of the rest of the film. Su Can is suddenly supposed to become the hero of the nation by defeating some western wrestlers that are coached by none other than David Carradine, whom this movie is dedicated to after his passing away during post-production. We are asking ourselves how exactly the movie could take a turn into this direction out of the blue.

Adding to the emotional impact of the film is Zhou Xun ("Perhaps Love", "Painted Skin") who might be drawn quite onedimensional by the script but who nonetheless brings more heart into the film as Su Can's wife. Vincent Zhao is convincing in his role as Su who has a long way ahead of him from the celebrated warrior to the pitiful beggar who is then about to become a hero. Especially in the fight scenes he is cutting a fine figure! On an emotional level the ending is also working out better than expected and proves to be less of a disappointment as "Ip Man 2", but the last part just feels like an addition that has just been implemented into the movie because of the fact that it's in vogue to beat up westerners in epic martial arts flicks. Without the last third the story around Su Can by no means would have been that epic but it remains the audience's belief that the seperate parts of the film could have been brought together more coherently. Is "True Legend" a letdown after all? Hard to say. As a movie yes, for martial art fans no. In any case, you can have a lot of fun with "True Legend" if you are willing to overlook its weaknesses.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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