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True Legend

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

The title may refer to Beggar Su, a Chinese folk hero who helped popularize "Drunken Fist" kung fu and who's been played by everybody from Gordon Liu to Chow Yun Fat. But the real true legend here is Yuen Woo-ping, a chopsocky Renaissance man whose action choreography defines the post--Bruce Lee era of martial-arts cinema. Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Sammo Hung, among countless others, owe him their careers; every Hollywood film with a wire-fu standoff is in his debt as well. Returning to the director's chair after a 14-year absence (a TV miniseries notwithstanding), Yuen retraces the lineage of our stumbling-but-deadly warrior (Chao), back to a career as an army general. Su's brother-in-law (On) is jealous of his relative's exalted status; he's also been secretly practicing the forbidden "venom" style, which allows users to poison victims with every punch.

Cue tragedy, training montages, more tragedy, white-bearded sages, copious binge-drinking, cameos by Michelle Yeoh and David Carradine and, of course, much ass-kicking. But whereas Yuen's speciality has always been gonzo, gravity-defying spectacles, now he's spiced his set pieces with plasticine computer-generated flourishes---effectively puncturing the inventive, handmade charm and fluid flurries of artistry that made his classic fight scenes so thrilling. Modernity doesn't suit the master at all here; video-game-like bells and whistles can't hold a candle to a battle royal between an inebriate and five European lunks done the old-fashioned, death-defying way.

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