In 1861, Su Can (Vincent Zhao), an honorable Qing Imperial Court (清朝) general led a daring covert mission to rescue a feudal Prince. As a reward, the Prince offered promotion of a Lordship but in modesty, Su Can deferred it to his foster brother Yuan Lie (Andy On) instead. Su Can wanted to start a family with Yuan Lie’s sister, Yuan Ying (Zhou Xun), and to devote perfecting his martial arts.
Five years later, Su Can and Yuan Ying were happily married and lived a blissful life with their young son. There were two things that Sun Can held dearest to his heart, one was the aspiration to create an unparalleled martial art and the other was his beloved wife. On the day Sun Can had a grand opening of his martial art school; Yuan Lie arrived at Sun Can’s house seeking revenge for the death of his father that transpired years ago. Yuan Lie and his troops killed Su Can’s father, Su Wan-kun (Leung Ka-Yan), and massacred the house occupants. He had never forgiven Su Wan-kun for killing his biological father. Apparently acting out of sympathy, Su Wan-kun adopted Yuan Lie and Yuan Ying into his household.
Within the last five years, Yuan Lie had been mastering his family’s martial art, the Five Venoms Fist technique. He had also sewn plates of dark gold armor directly into his skin to counter Su Can’s martial art and Yuan Lie believed it made him immortal. While he was perfecting the Five Venom Fist technique, the unorthodox practice also took an unhealthy hold on Yuan Lie himself. It consumed an incestuous desire for Yuan Ying. Yuan Lie managed to overpower Su Can with his deadly Five Venom Fist technique and tossed him into a raging river. In despair, Yuan Ying leaped after Su Can. Believing both had perished in the river, Yuan Lie took their young son as prisoner.
At downstream, Yuan Ying managed to save Su Can and both winded up at mountain refuge of herbal healer, Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh). Sun Can was badly poisoned and Sister Yu was able to heal his injuries. However, Sun Can lost much of his martial arts. He now embarked on a lengthy journey to recovery and he hoped to restore his confidence as much as the power to his damaged body from the poison. The burden of his defeat in the hand of Yuan Lie and the death of his father in addition to his inability to rescue his son weighed in substantially upon Sun Can. He started to drink heavily the wine that Yuan Ying dutifully brewed day and night. She had little hope of selling her wine in their secluded location and it didn’t halt her from brewing. Her lamenting in regard to Su Can’s perpetual drunkenness may well be just facetious. However, Su Can’s passion for martial arts and his desire for revenge gradually returned, he vigorously trained again.
Su Can’s lengthy training montages included sparring with the mysterious martial art masters God of Wushu (Jay Chou) and Old Sage (Gordon Liu Chia Hui). Meanwhile, Yuan Ying grew concerns with Su Can’s increasingly unstable condition and soon she discovered that the masters only existed in his alcohol-soaked imagination. Yuan Ying felt hopeless and compelled to rescue their son by herself. She left Su Can to face her brother for his mercy to let go her son. Realizing how much Yuan Ying meant to Su Can, his spirit awakened and he followed her to confront his nemesis.
Su Can was able to have his revenge and rescued his son but he lost what he held most dear, Yuan Ying’s life. Thereafter, Sun Can suffered emotional breakdown and went back to becoming drunkard once again. He became a beggar and his young son would tie a piece of rope to lead him through the streets. They were greeted with disdainful gazes and soon people would call him Su Qi-Er or Beggar Su. Although Su Can experienced this spiritual madness, but his ambition for pinnacle of the martial art was still pretty much alive within him. He continued to practice and perfected his skills.
A few years later, Su Can and his son’s journey took them to Heilongjiang Province where the area was dominated by Russia’s rules. Su Can fully embodied the drunken beggar of legend shuffling through the streets with his equally disheveled son. In his wine addled-stupor, he stumbled into a bar and once again his alcohol-soaked martial art master imagination reappeared in the form of Drunkard Immortal (Jay Chou). In his drunken madness, Su Can created the now famous Drunken Fist. At the same time, Su Can’s old army buddy, Ma QingFeng (Guo Xiangdong) recognized him.
Su Can implored to Ma QingFeng to take his son with him, but his son refused. The next day, Su Can and his son followed Ma QingFeng to a gambling den where many of Chinese martial art fighters lost in the tournament against Russian wrestlers. The den was owned by Killer Anton (David Carradine). Ultimately, the flame of light within Su Can reignited at a critical moment during the tournament and he defeated all the Russian wrestlers. From this on, Su Can became the legendary of Beggar Su whose martial art prowess had a huge influence on today’s martial art disciplines.
The main draw of True Legend obviously is the martial art actions and it’s certainly quite entertaining. It’s a vintage Yuen Woo Ping’s blend of old school martial art film technique. They are brilliantly composed, shot, and deeply engrossing. Dismally on the other hand is Yuen Woo Ping’s weakness in handling the dramatic scenes. He’s not adept in building or creating character resonance within the plot. It’s too straightforward.
True Legend is staged in three chronological segments. They show the different phase of Su Can’s life. The first two parts are quite enjoyable despite the lack of engaging drama but it’s easily compensated with intensity of the fight scenes. The last phase is somewhat for the sake of needing a big finish storyline that it could have been better to leave out. It abruptly became Jet Li’s Fearless ripped off.
As far as the performance of the cast is concerned, they all did a splendid acting job. Vincent Zhao did a convincing Beggar Su character despite being away from feature movies for awhile. Andy On is superb portraying as a ghoulishly looking villain. Zhou Xun is solid playing a supporting wife and provides some kind of emotional impact. Veteran actors/actress such as Gordon Liu Chia Hui, Leung Ka-Yan, David Carradine and Michelle Yeoh are all appeared as cameo. And to prevent the movie to cater to only core testosterone gender audiences, Jay Chou accommodates the eye candy of the movie.
True Legend provides some fantastical elements with its fighting sequences. Clearly, Yuen Woo Ping is still one of the best in the business when it comes to adrenaline bone crunching fight scenes. True Legend may not be the same caliber as Ip Man, but martial art fans will still find excitement throughout nonetheless.
Vincent Zhao … Su Can/Su Qi-Er
Zhou Xun … Yuan Ying
Michelle Yeoh … Sister Yu
Feng Xiaogang … Pickpocket
Andy On … Yuan Lie
Jiang Luxia … Iron Maiden
Gordon Liu Chia Hui … Old Sage
Leung Ka-Yan … Su Wan-Kun
Will Liu … Iron Lad (Liu GengHong)
Jay Chou … God of Wushu/Drunkard Immortal
Guo Xiaodong … Ma QingFeng
Cung Le … Militia Leader
Jacky Heung … Bandit Leader
David Carradine … Killer Anton
Chinese Title: 蘇乞兒
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Screenplay: Christine To (To Chi Long)
Producer: Bill Kong, Cary Cheng, Wang TianYun, Xu JianHai
Director of Photography: Zhao XiaoDing
Action Choreographer: Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Shun Yee, Yuen Cheung Yan
Art Director: Huo TingXiao
Custume Designer: Hai Chung Man
Composer: Shigeru Umebayashi
Soundtrack: Zhou Xun (Wandering Heart)
Filming Locations: Beijing and Shanghai, China
Release Date: February 9, 2010
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
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