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Legends in a martial arts tale

Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, True Legend is about the extraordinary journey of a martial arts hero. -NST

Mon, Feb 08, 2010
New Straits Times

TRUE Legend is the extraordinary journey of a man - a martial arts hero - whose greatest dream is to create a unique school of martial arts for the world to follow. It is directed by legendary kungfu film-maker Yuen Woo-Ping.

Yuen picked an impressive cast for his solo directorial return after Iron Monkey 2 in 1996. It includes Datuk Michelle Yeoh as a guest star in her role as Sister Yu, a lady warrior with exceptional martial arts skills.

It is a significant role as she saves the film's main character's life.
"As I read the story, a familiar figure came to mind - haven't we met such a lady in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?" said Yuen in the True Legend website. Yuen had also choreographed the action scenes in Ang Lee's epic.

"I learnt from the screenwriter (Christine To Chi-Long) that she had fashioned this character after Yu Xiulian' in Crouching Tiger.

Yuen said Yeoh's character in True Legend was actually written as Yu Shu Lien (or Yu Xiulian, in Mandarin Pinyin. Yu is the family name), her character from the Ang Lee film.

In fact, in Crouching Tiger, Yeoh's character sometimes could be heard being addressed as "Sister Yu" (pronounced as "Yu Da Jie" in Mandarin Chinese).

That's when he decided Sister Yu should be played by the inimitable Michelle Yeoh. But it was only after she had confirmed her participation that the character was called Sister Yu.

"No one else is fit for this name but her," said Yuen. "If the character was played by another, she might as well be called Sister Chen, Sister Li or any name at all."

Yuen was not surprised by Yeoh's action stunts as Sister Yu, although these were not that many in True Legend. He said it was "her emotions that surprised me more".

To "re-vitalise" a character is by no means simple, said Yuen, "and Michelle did it beautifully". "The sadness in Sister Yu's eyes says 100 times more than words - her poignant past is embodied in her actions.

"As a viewer, I'm delighted at the return of Sister Yu. As a director, I'm very grateful for Michelle who came back to play this part."

True Legend is said to have used 3-D techniques in its fight sequences, and many of its scenes were shot in really dangerous places, like the Hukou Waterfall at the Yellow River in North China's Shanxi Province.

Yuen had also choreographed the brilliant action sequences of Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 and The Matrix series.

Arguably the best action director in the world, Yuen has been trained in martial arts from a young age under his father, a respected martial arts actor. The early training stood Yuen in good stead, and by the 1960s he had moved to Hong Kong and was rising steadily through the ranks of the booming HK film industry with stunt work.

Yuen was first credited as action director in Ng See Yuen's Mad Killer (1971). In 1978, Yuen's first directed film, Snake In The Eagle's Shadow created two superstars - Jackie Chan, one of the action stars today, and Yuen himself.

Yuen's second film, Drunken Master, also starred Jackie Chan. To date, these two films still serve as the icons of 1970s Chinese action cinema.

In 1984, Yuen directed another kungfu hit, Drunken Tai Chi, which discovered another action star - Donnie Yen who later appeared in the Iron Monkey series.

Yuen has also directed comedies and contemporary police-action-dramas, such as In the Line of Duty 4 with Michelle Yeoh.

Yuen's work started getting Hollywood attention. And the rest - Matrix, Kill Bill series, etc - is cinema history.

The film stars Vincent Zhao Wen-Zhou (The Blade) as the man who would become Beggar Su, one of the most memorable characters in martial arts film history.

True Legend also features Andy On, Michelle Yeoh, David Carradine and American-born Cung Le, one of the most recognised international kickboxing champions in the world as well as in mixed martial arts and sanshou.

Going by production notes from Sony Pictures Releasing International, the story is about Su Chan, a rich man obsessed with kung-fu. He and his family fall victim to a conspiracy and lose everything. He becomes a beggar, and gets drunk every day. He wanders from town to town, but all this time his dream about the martial arts is still alive.

His hard life has not killed off his determination to perfect his skills. He conjures up scenes where he combats the legendary Lord of Wushu, and he achieves some peace of mind.

Meanwhile, the Heilongjiang Province where Su resides falls under foreigners' rule. One day a crisis occurs that threatens the life of his son - the only person Su still cares about.

At the critical moment, Su uses all his strength in a martial art battle and unwittingly forges a new style of martial arts forever known as The Drunken Fist.

This then becomes the legend of Beggar Su, which is based on the story of a real-life hero. He is honoured as the "King of Beggars".

True Legend premiered in Beijing two weeks ago. At the Press conference, Yuen was joined by cast members Jay Chou, Zhou Xun and Vincent Zhao.
Chou plays two different roles in the film, one of them being Vincent Zhao's martial mentor. Said Chou: "The two roles I played are very different characters. And they have diverse kungfu styles. I really enjoyed myself during the shoot."

Chou is not an experienced martial artist or screen fighter but he performed some of his own stunts in True Legend.

In his fight sequences with Zhao, Chou reportedly caused some minor injuries to Zhao's hands during sparring.

"I remembered that I had to do 30 to 40 takes before the scene was okay," said Chou.

Said Zhao: "If one actor can fight but the other cannot, more co-ordination is needed. Accidents are unavoidable, hand injuries are common."

Added Chou: "Sometimes, it is really difficult to gauge the distance. We need to make it look like a real fight. So when we throw a punch, we will sometimes hit each other."

As the number of hand injuries increased, Yuen had a stunt double to complete the fight sequences.

The music for True Legend is composed by Shigeru Umebayashi, who is best known for the nostalgic tune in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000), and Wong's 2046 (in 2004), which won him Best Original Film Score at the Golden Horse Film Festival and the Hong Kong Film Awards.

The theme song, Zou Ma Kan Huang Hua (meaning, looking at yellow flowers on horseback), is performed by Zhou Xun.

True Legend will be shown at the Berlinale Special during the 60th Berlin International Film Festival which runs Feb 11-21.

True Legend is set for release across Malaysia on Feb 11.

Vincent Zhao as Beggar Su

Vincent Zhao, 38, born in Harbin, China, began learning martial arts when young, learning it from his father. At 13, he entered the Harbin Martial Arts Team and became the youngest team member.
At 18, Zhao enrolled in Beijing Sports University and majored in Martial Arts. He became the champion of the 1991 National Aerobic Gymnastics Tournament.
In 1992, during the second year of university, Zhao was cast as a villain against Jet Li in Fong Sai Yuk. Zhao's performance earned much notice and he started getting film offes.
After graduation, Zhao was offered to teach at the Beijing Sports University, but he chose to focus on his film career. Zhao went on to make films and TV dramas in Hong Kong and China. Zhao has made more than 14 films including Fist Power (2000), Mahjong Dragon (1996) and Once Upon A Time In China V (1994) and IV (1993).

Michelle Yeoh as Sister Yu

Malaysian heroine Datuk Michelle Yeoh is well-known for performing her own stunts in action films. She is a unique female action star.
Her role in True Legend, if minor, is that of a heroine with exceptional martial arts skills and who lives in seclusion on North Star Mountain.
Director Yuen said in an interview with the Chinese Press that he relates to that character. "I often feel that I am a recluse and I'm settled with what I have. Michelle's character indeed has my own spirit."

David Carradine as Anton, gambling house owner

The late David Carradine's famous role as Kwai Chang Caine in TV drama Kung Fu (1972) shot him to superstardom. Since then Carradine's name has stood for ultra-cool and often ruthless kungfu characters. He had also written a book, Spirit Of Shaolin, A Handbook Of Kung Fu Philosophy. He had appeared in over 120 films, 32 plays, 27 TV films and miniseries.
When Carradine died last year, Yuen posted a eulogy on the True Legend official site.
"David, my good friend, passed away in Thailand on June 3.
"David and I knew each other from Kill Bill. Before that, I had of course seen a lot of his work. He is among the first Hollywood actors to perform Chinese martial arts on the big screen. In real life he is also a genuine kungfu fan, and knows tai chi, qi gong and Chinese medicine.
"Same as I, people shall always remember his role as Caine, 'the grasshopper,' in Kung Fu, in the 70s, which was a really unforgettable performance.
"I feel both great honour and regret that True Legend is one of David Carradine's last works."

Zhou Xun as Xiao Ying

Born in 1976, Zhou Xun is today one of China's female best known artiste. She first entered the screen when she played a blind girl in Chen Kaige's The Emperor And The Assassin in 1998.
Her next film, Suzhou River, earned her the Best Actress Award in the Paris Film Festival. She continued to lure international audiences with her role in Dai Sijie's film adaptation of the book of same name, Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress in 2002.
From there, she went on to star in at least 15 films, nine TV series and has released two albums.
Her performance in Perhaps Love (2005) directed by Peter Chan won for her the Best Actress Award in both Hong Kong Film Awards and Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards.

Jay Chou as Lord of Wushu

Taiwan-born Chou, 31, is very popular in Malaysia. He is in fact the best-selling Mandarin artiste in the world for the past five years and has won numerous music industry awards.
Chou began acting in a starring role in Initial D (2005), which brought him The Best New Performer Award in The 25th Hong Kong Film Awards. His other films include Kung Fu Dunk (2008).

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