Martial artists turned actors Vincent Zhao and Andy On engage in kung-fu fisticuffs in this new tale of Beggar So.
The tale of Beggar So is a fairly popular one in Hong Kong cinema and also on 123 movies, with previous versions starring greats like Jacky Chan and Stephen Chow. Needless to say, martial arts action is a trademark of such films and this one is no exception. Unlike the previous examples though, it is distinctly not a comedy.
True Legend: The Tale of Beggar So
Mainland star Vincent Zhao stars as So, or Su in Mandarin. As the movie starts, he is a decorated general who has just been offered a governorship. However, he only wants to go back to his home, start a family and start a wushu school, so he offers the position to his adopted brother Yuan, played by Chinese-American actor Andy On. This seems innocuous enough, but the truth is, Yuan feels as though he is always playing second fiddle to Su. Complicating that is the fact that Su’s father killed Yuan’s father for dabbling in a dangerous martial art known as “Five Venom Fists”, and then adopted him.
Some years later, Su is married to Yuan’s sister Ying, played by Zhou Xun, whom his father also adopted, and has a son. This is when Yuan decides to return, and five years has changed him beyond Su’s expectations. Without giving too much away, things go south pretty quickly and Su ends up separated from his family after being thrown into a river. He’s then rescued by a reclusive doctor, played by Michelle Yeoh. His wife also ends up with him. However, Su has a broken arm and has lost all his martial arts ability. Depressed and bitter, Su wallows around drinking excessive amounts of alcohol until he eventually gets motivated to save his son.
The third part of the film is part of the logical evolution of the Drunken Master story, but it seems like a very abrupt turn from what was previously a standard wuxia-historical. Suddenly Su is in a pre-modern town with his son being urged to fight the foreigners who are taking over. What follows is a whole lot of bone-crunching action, but fans of this genre might recognize distinct similarities to the movie “Fearless”.
The Cast: Martial Artists First, Actors Second
Vincent Zhao is not a particularly charismatic actor, but he is an extremely proficient martial artist, and the fights between him and Andy On in the first half of the film were amazing and raw. Andy On did well as the villain, portraying extreme evil with just the right touch of vulnerability. The latter taking nothing away from his evil. The legendary Michelle Yeoh was rather wasted as the doctor, only appearing briefly when she rescues Su and not much after. Zhou Xun was relegated to a flower vase role as Su’s wife, but that shouldn’t be surprising in a film like this. The other interesting cameo was Taiwan pop star Jay Chou as the God of Wushu who helps Su get his art back. The campy portrayal was somewhat jarring in context with the rest of a more serious film. This film was also American actor David Carradine’s last role, and it’s a small part as the racist boss of the foreign wrestlers near the end.
As a martial arts film, True Legend is extremely entertaining and full of fantastic fights, however the third act of the film gives the viewer somewhat of an immediate disconnect with the previous story. It’s easy to relate to the classic revenge tale such as takes up the first chunk of the film, but the last part could be another movie entirely, so out of place does it feel. That being said, kung-fu junkies are sure to appreciate this throwback to classic Hong Kong film.
- Starring Vincent Zhao, Andy On, Zhou Xun, Michelle Yeoh, Jay Chou, Gordon Liu
- Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping
- Written by Christine To Chi-Long
- Filmed in Mandarin
- Runtime: 115 minutes
- Rated R for brutal fighting and related violence
- Additional information at IMDB