Martial arts fanatics may relish this brutal, action-packed fantasy but, for the rest of us, Yuen Woo Ping’s cinematic battle between good and evil turns out to be a tedious slog.
In 1861 in China, the acclaimed Qing warrior, Gen. Su Can (Vincent Zhao), retires after rescuing a prince from capture in battle. When he’s offered a high post in government, Su suggests that his adopted brother, Yuan (Andy On), become Governor instead. Peace-seeking Su is far more interested in marrying Yuan’s sister Ying (Zhou Xun) and subsequently raising their son Feng (Guo Xinadong) and coaching students in wushu. But treacherous Yuan – who has always been jealous of Su – is determined to take revenge for the death of his birth father at Su’s hands. With golden armor grotesquely sewn into his skin to make him invincible and utilizing the deadly Five Venom Fists, Yuan brutally fights Su Can, forcing off a raging waterfall, leaving him critically injured. With the help of reclusive Dr. Yu (Michelle Yeoh), Ying and his own vivid hallucinations, Su Can recovers his strength and stamina on Beidou Mountain, determined to rescue little Feng, whom Yuan has kidnapped, kept in leg irons and buried alive.
After making his reputation as a stuntman and fight choreographer, Hong Kong’s Yuen Woo Ping (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Kill Bill” Volumes I and II, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hero”) has branched out into directing. Unfortunately, the script by To Chi-long lacks any sense of narrative arc for the characters. Instead, it’s burdened with an inconsistent, often uneven plot, culminating in a postscript that proclaims how Su’s mastery of the acrobatic Drunken Fist technique influenced countless generations, including Jackie Chan.
Loaded with distinct fighting styles – including MMA, knife combat and awesome, slow-motion aerial stunts – this film also marks one of the final screen appearances of David Carradine in a cameo as a fight promoter of Killer Anton’s Wrestlers in the Wushu Academy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “True Legend” is a formulaic 5, chronicling a ferocious family feud.