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Published: May 12, 2011
In “True Legend,” his return to feature-film directing after a 15-year hiatus, Yuen Woo Ping soemtimes flashes the skills that made him the world’s favorite action choreographer for hire. (His résumé includes the “Matrix” and “Kill Bill” films, as well as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”)

After a stirring opening battle, however, the fights in “True Legend” become pretty routine. And beyond some lovely mountain scenery and a tiny cameo by a radiant Michelle Yeoh, there isn’t much else to look at. Like so many of the bloated, moralistic epics being pumped out by the Chinese film industry, it maneuvers cardboard characters through a story built almost entirely from aphorisms, scheming and pledges of revenge.

“True Legend,” written by Christine To, actually packs in two such stories. Vincent Zhao plays Su Can, a general and legendary martial artist in the 1860s who has a violent falling-out with his half-brother. After a long and boring mountaintop exile spiced up by some mystical training with the God of Wushu (Jay Chou), he returns for the big showdown.

That would seem to be that, except that the movie isn’t over. Suddenly we’re cast ahead into Su’s future in a more or less realistic border city, where he must uphold Chinese honor against a troupe of sadistic Russian wrestlers who “kill Chinese for amusement.” This long, strange epilogue is made even stranger by the presence of David Carradine, who died in 2009 in a Bangkok hotel room, in one of his last roles, as the primary white caricature.

It’s giving nothing away to report that Su, despite being a grief-stricken drunk, emerges as the last man standing with his new “drunken fist” style of martial arts. An alcoholic leitmotif runs through “True Legend,” but it only makes you nostalgic for the lightness and humor of “Drunken Master,” the breakthrough 1978 film for both Mr. Yuen and Jackie Chan.

“True Legend” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for violence. Crunching bones, coughing blood.


Opens on Friday in New York; Los Angeles; Austin, Tex.; San Francisco; and Honolulu.

Directed by Yuen Woo Ping; written by Christine To; director of photography, Zhao Ziaoding; edited by Wenders Li; music by Shigeru Umebayashi; production design by Huo Tingxiao; costumes by Yee Chung Man; produced by Bill Kong, Cary Cheng, Wang Tianyun and Xu Jianhai; released by Indomina Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes.

WITH: Vincent Zhao (Su Can), Zhou Xun (Ying), Andy On (Yuan Lie), Guo Xiaodong (Ma Qingfeng), Jay Chou (God of Wushu/Drunken God), Michelle Yeoh (Dr. Yu), David Carradine (Anthony), Gordon Liu (Old Sage) and Cung Le (Militia Leader).