Yuen Woo Ping is known to American audiences as the fight choreographer on such films as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the "Matrix" movies and the two "Kill Bill" pictures, his mix of flying fists and physics-defying wire-work creating an intense ballet of action kinetics.
Directing his own feature film for the first time since 1996, in "True Legend" Yuen integrates real-world action with CGI embellishments in a way that his Hollywood counterparts frequently can't quite manage, grounding the fantastic in something tangible. Yet he still seems at his best when he strips away the artifice to create an unexpected intimacy, just actual people in real spaces beating the bejesus out of each other.
The story here involves two brothers in conflict, with one sewing armor directly to his flesh and jamming his fists into pots full of poisonous snakes and scorpions to perfect the dark Five Venom Fists technique, while the other masters the comically idiosyncratic Drunken Fist fighting style. The issue between the two brothers is settled well before the end of the film, and so a long section of the victor battling foreign wrestlers in an arena -- which includes a brief appearance by David Carradine -- feels bigger than just a coda and is more a partial sequel within the film itself.
A hodgepodge of styles, "True Legend" works best as a freewheeling showcase for Yuen's dazzling fight sequences above any sort of cogent storytelling.
-- Mark Olsen
"True Legend." MPAA rating: R for sequence of battle violence and brutal fighting. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. At Mann's Chinese 6, Hollywood.