True Legend DVD & Blu-ray

Friday, 29 October 2010 17:07

As soon as the name of the director of this new martial arts movie is mentioned, you immediately know what to expect: Yuen Woo Ping. His name (primarily as action choreographer) is synonymous with some of the best-known kung fu movies of the last decade including “The Matrix” trilogy, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2” and “Kung Fu Hustle”. And those are just the films familiar to Western audiences.

On “True Legend” Woo Ping returns to the director’s chair after a 14 year hiatus, and yet again stamps his authority on ‘his’ genre with some of the most innovative and thrilling fight sequences ever. Credit for this is also due in no small part to star Vincent Zhao, an actor renowned in China for parts in numerous martial arts TV series such as Once Upon a Time in China. He plays Su Can, Master of Wu Shu and Drunken Fist styles.

True Legend now available on DVD and Blu-rayThe film is effectively split into two stories. In the primary part, set in 1861, Su Can is an army general who plays a major part in the rescue of an Imperial prince. Offered the role of Governor as a reward, he turns it down, arranges for his brother in law Yuan (Andy On) to receive the job instead, and leaves to visit his parents with beautiful wife Ying (Xun Zhou). Unbeknownst to him, Yuan is filled with hatred for Su Can and his family because his father was killed by Su’s years earlier, when he turned evil and murdered dozens of people in cold blood.

As five years pass, Yuan is more determined than ever to avenge his father’s death. He slaughters Su Can’s father and his entourage, and – after a bone-crunching battle - is on the verge of defeating Su when Little Feng, Su and Ying’s infant son pleads for his father’s life. Instead of finishing the job, Yuan tosses Su into a deadly waterfall and suffers the shock of seeing his sister Ying leap in straight after her husband. These events leave the pale-faced, evil Governor even more bent up inside and yet he takes Little Feng under his wing, believing the defenceless boy to be his last remaining family. Meanwhile, in the scenic Huang Shan mountains, Ying and Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh sadly in little more than a cameo) tend to his wounds and help him restore his confidence and strength, ready for a rematch against Yuan.

Without giving the game away, part two sees Su Can develop his Drunken Fist fighting style and save the reputation of the entire Chinese nation as nasty invading countries have been killing and ridiculing Chinese fighters in brutal, mismatched ring bouts. David Carradine (in one of his final roles) makes an amusingly cheesy cameo appearance as a fight promoter.

Without putting too fine a point on it, this movie is not a period drama, despite what the makers say about its depiction of alcoholism and the up/down/up/down arcs of Su Can’s life. Rather it is a slick, big-budget martial arts actioner loosely framed in the mid-19th Century. Once you accept that fact, you can settle down to a series of cracking fight scenes choreographed and directed with panache by Woo Ping. To give you an idea of the production values, the sets are enormous (one early “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”-style cave setting reputedly had 40,000-50,000 logs in its foundations and measured over 5000 square metres!), and the CGI and green-screen special effects are generally highly accomplished.

Crucial to the success of the film, the martial arts battles brilliantly convey the force and energy required to sell the impact of fist on chest, and arcing foot on chin. The expertly-mixed sound effects include the usual blend of swoosh and thud noises, complimenting the slo-mo and motion blur visual effects. Copious amounts of wire work is employed to launch and drag the combatants all over the sets (and frequently face-first through them!).

Stand-out fight scenes include a pivotal one between Su Can and Yuan where they go crashing in slow motion through a room full of heavy, water-laden pots, and end up punching each other half-way down a very tightly-confined well. Another key scene depicts Su Can battling the God of Wu Shu - a white-haired deity with dazzling weapons skills - on top of a towering Buddha statue! There is not a duff brawl in the entire film, and very little sense of repetition in the choreography or fighting styles, helping to keep the action feeling fresh and invigorating. Whilst the movie is no classic, and the inclusion of the second part of the story feels bolted-on and superfluous, it is certainly well worth seeking out if you are a kung fu fan seeking to fill a couple of hours with wall-to-wall, frenetic action.

The picture quality of the DVD version reviewed is pretty good, and it shows off the fantastic natural vistas in the film very well, given its standard-def credentials. One or two of the sets are blatantly mainly constructed using CGI, though once you have seen the film you will understand why they look so glaringly man-made. The plot holds the answers! The special features on the disc include a trailer, a music video and a fairly comprehensive making-of that includes plenty of interviews, behind-the-scenes clips and details on how the film was put together.

“True Legend” (2010) is out now, courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment. The feature running time is 115 minutes approx, certificate ‘15’ and the movie retails for £15.99 on DVD, £19.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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