Home Video Hovel: True Legend

I wrote a sort of review of Yuen Woo Ping’s True Legend already in my Movie Journal column last month but the distributor was kind enough to send us a copy of the Blu-ray, which is out now, as is the DVD, so I thought I’d reprint them here. I’ll run down the special feature below.

It’s been a long and very gradual process, my learning to appreciate martial arts movies. I’ve never outright disliked them but as a younger film watcher who was, in retrospect, trying way too hard to be a “serious” appreciator of art, I had a difficult time understanding quite how to approach it. The genre is, at times, quite silly by the standards we’re accustomed to and the devotion and exuberance it inspired in people was hard for me to grasp. I’ve come to interpret it in the same way I do heavy metal, as something that is simultaneously completely self-aware and completely earnest.

I’m glad I arrived at that point before I saw True Legend, Yuen Woo-ping’s new film because, for most of its running time, it’s one of my favorite entries in the genre. It’s the story of a retired general named Su Can forced back into action when his father is killed and his son kidnapped by his evil adopted brother Yuan Lie. At the same time, it’s an origin story for a character type that has shown up in these types of films for a long time, the drunken beggar who can kick ass when called for.

The latter story is the movie’s weakness, though. For most of the movie, Su Can’s exile, recovery and retraining after his first battle with Yuan Lie is exciting, whimsical, visceral and deeply felt. Meanwhile, Yuan Lie is just the kind of inventively crazy villain a movie like this needs. When he absorbs the venom of scorpions, snakes and spiders so that he can poison his foe just by grabbing him, the correct reaction is, “Awesome.” Also delightful are Jay Chou and Gordon Liu as the magical beings who train Su Can. This all culminates in an exciting climactic battle that is as gonzo as it is sad. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t end there. There’s an extended epilogue of sorts that connects to the rest of the film in only the most tenuous way. Really, it’s like you’ve watched a really good movie and then its short and lame sequel. It’s a frustrating and disappointed ending but True Legend is still worthy of your time if you like the genre.

Special features include five behind-the-scenes featurettes (mostly concerning fight choreography and the film’s bigger action set-pieces), storyboard to scene comparisons for two of the fights and a music video.

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