David Carradine

True Legend

2010

Shanghai Film Group

Focus Features

Directed by Yuen Woo-ping

Produced by Bill Kong

Written by To Chi-long

If you’ve been hanging out here with me or over at Better In The Dark then you’ve probably heard me going on and on about how much I miss Manhattan’s 42end Street of the 70’s and 80’s.  I spent a lot of time and money seeing movies on that old street, lined on both sides with grindhouses.  If you had even as little as ten bucks in your kick you could spend the whole day going from one theater to the other watching double and even triple features.

One of these theaters was famous for showing nothing but a triple feature of Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies.  That’s right.  During the entire decade of the 80’s you could go see three Kick ‘Em Ups for three lousy dollars at this one theater.  I don’t believe it ever lost money as I recall it always being damn near packed.  A lot of those movies were horribly dubbed, poorly shot and looked as if they’d been made in somebody’s backyard but damn if they weren’t fun.  Sure, we still have Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies being made today but oftentimes to me they come off looking too slick, too polished, too expensive and too well made for me to fully enjoy them.  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Jet Li’s “Hero” are good examples of what I’m talking about.  Oh, I liked them both a lot but they’re both too art-house and much too self-important for my taste

I guess that’s why I liked TRUE LEGEND so much.  Even though it is extremely well made, professionally polished, slick and a lot of money obviously spent on it, it was made in the true spirit of those Kung Fu epics of the 70’s and 80’s.  There’s just enough story to support us from one scene of spectacular asskicking to the next and it’s a wild story that goes from one twist to another with a gleeful abandon in a way that satisfied a long-time Kung Fu movie fan like me.

 

The movie opens with the great warrior General Su Can (Vincent Zhao) rescuing his prince from a forbidden mountain top fortress.  Any movie that opens with an insanely over-the-top battle that most movies would have ended with catches my attention right away.  In gratitude, the prince wants to give Su a governorship but Su turns it down.  Su persuades the prince to give the governorship to his step-brother Yuan (Andy On).  Su wants to go back home to be with his wife Ying (Zhou Xun) who is Yuan’s sister and open up his own martial arts school.

We jump five years ahead and now Su is a renowned Wu Shu master, raising a son, Feng with his wife and preparing to welcome Yuan home.  It’s a bloody homecoming indeed.  Yuan has hated Su for years because Su’s father killed Yuan’s biological father.  Su’s dad raised the boy and his sister as his own children but Yuan’s the kinda guy who holds grudges for a looooong time.  To ensure his revenge, Yuan has learned a forbidden evil martial arts technique called The Five Venom Fists and has had some really wicked, demonic looking armor grafted onto his arms, legs and torso.

Yuan’s kills Su’s dad, Su’s entire household of retainers, staff and family.  And that’s just before lunch.  Before he’s through he’s beaten the piss outta Su and thrown him down a waterfall.  Ying follows her husband and Yuan thinks they’re both dead.

Not so.  They’re found by a herbalist physician,  Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh) who nurses them back to health.  Su is obsessed with once again fighting Yuan and getting revenge.  But his confidence is shattered.  He regains it when he encounters The Old Sage (The Great, Great Man Gordon Liu) and The God of Wu Shu (Jay Chou) and begs to be their disciple.  The Old Sage tells him that once he defeats The God of Wu Shu he can be their disciple.

Now that’s all the set-up I’m going to give you and actually it’s all you really need as from here on out the movie goes in a couple of directions that you really need to be ignorant on if you want to truly enjoy it.

The acting in this one is nothing to rave about but let’s be honest here; you don’t watch a Kung Fu/Martial Arts movie for Academy Award winning performances.  But it’s always good to see Gordon Liu in a Kung Fu movie where he belongs and Jay Chou reminds me here of why he was the only thing good about the recent “Green Hornet” movie.  Don’t look for Michelle Yeoh to bust any moves as her role is little more than an extended cameo.  As is David Carradine who appears in the last twenty minutes of the movie as the ruthless manager of a cadre of bloodthirsty fighters.   Su takes them on in a really outstanding fight scene where he demonstrates the Drunken Fist, battling his opponents on a platform over a pit of hungry tigers.

So should you see TRUE LEGEND?  If you like Kung Fu movies I recommend it highly.  I’ve read some reviews that claim the fight choreography is unmemorable and I have to wonder what movie those reviewers saw because I found the fight scenes in TRUE LEGEND exhilarating and exciting.  The only odd thing about the movie is that it goes on for another twenty minutes for the battle against Carradine’s fighters when there really is no need as the movie’s story has ended but hey, I’m not gonna argue against twenty more minutes of Kung Fu mayhem, especially when it’s this much fun.  TRUE LEGEND is no masterpiece of the genre but it’s a damn good movie and that’s all it has to be for me.  Highly recommended.

115 minutes

Rated

The Long Riders

 

1980

United Artists/MGM

Produced by Tim Zinneman

Directed by Walter Hill

Written by Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, James Keach & Stacey Keach

Walter Hill has long been one of the most dependable directors working in Hollywood for more than thirty years now.  Even though you don’t hear his name as much as some others, he’s always there, turning out excellent, entertaining movies with such ease and regularity that I don’t think people know exactly just how good he is.  Most people are familiar with “48 Hours” and “Another 48 Hours” the two movies that made Eddie Murphy a movie star.  But I knew Walter Hill long before that from movies such as “Streets of Fire” “Trespass” “Johnny Handsome” and “Extreme Prejudice” and who could forget “The Warriors”?

Walter Hill is also a major fan of westerns and many of his modern day movies are actually westerns.  “Streets Of Fire” is a rock and roll version of “The Searchers” and “Extreme Prejudice” with Nick Nolte as a hardass Texas Ranger up against gunrunner Powers Booth is very much a modern day western with a climatic shootout that is clearly inspired by Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” Walter Hill knows his way around westerns as he proved with THE LONG RIDERS which still holds up very well I think as a superior example of the genre and I consider just as much a classic as “The Warriors”

The movie recounts the fabled exploits of the James/Younger Gang who robbed trains and banks in post Civil War Missouri.  The twist in this movie is that brothers in the gang are also played by real life brothers.  So we’ve got Stacey and James Keach playing Frank and Jesse James.  David Carradine, Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine play The Younger brothers.  Dennis Quaid and Randy Quaid play The Miller brothers while Christopher Guest and Nicholas Guest are Bob and Charlie Ford.  It’s an interesting acting experiment that I think pays off extremely well.  Having real life brothers play these roles gives them an intimacy the actors didn’t have to work at.  Scenes between the actors have warmth and a feel that doesn’t have to be forced.  You believe right from the start that these guys are brothers.  And their natural resemblance helps greatly as well.  Don’t you get annoyed when movies try to pass off actors that have absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to each other as family?

The movie doesn’t actually have a solid plot or story.  We follow the members of The James/Younger gang as they go about their day job of robbing and stealing and then they return to the safety of their Missouri home where everybody treats them like heroes.  Jesse James (James Keach) is making plans to get married that Cole Younger (David Carradine) thinks is a bad move.  Mainly because they’ve got the tenacious Pinkerton Detective Jacob Rixley (James Whitmore, Jr.) on their trail and he’s vowed to bring in the gang dead or alive.  The problem is that Rixley’s men are bungling incompetents who manage to kill everybody else except the men they’re supposed to be after.  But Rixley gets his chance when he gets word that that the gang is planning to rob the bank at Northfield, Minnesota.  It’s a robbery destined to end in horrifyingly blood-soaked carnage and after it’s over, the James/Younger gang will never be the same.

In between we’re treated to some pretty cool shootouts and great acting.  David Carradine steals the show as Cole Younger who is wonderfully badass in this movie.  He has a terrific knife fight with Sam Starr (James Remar) the husband of Belle Starr (Pamela Reed) a whore who Cole is more in love with than he’d like anybody, especially Belle to know.  Pamela Reed is also so good in this one you wish she’d had more screen time but trust me; she makes the most of what she’s got to work with.   It also doesn’t hurt that she’s flat out gorgeous to look at.   James Keach does some interesting things with his characterization of Jesse James where he sometimes comes off as not being quite human in his dealings with other people.  Stacey Keach is the better actor of the two and I think it was generous of him to step back and let his brother play Jesse, who has more lines and more screen time than Frank.  Dennis Quaid doesn’t have much to do in this movie so don’t look for a lot of him but his brother Randy carries the load for them both.  He has a terrifically funny scene where he sits down next to a group of musicians playing “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and with a big friendly grin and an even bigger gun advises it would be better for their health if they play “I’m A Good Ol’ Rebel” instead.

So should you see THE LONG RIDERS?  Chances are if you’re a fan of westerns and/or Walter Hill like me you’ve already seen it.  But if you haven’t and you’re wondering what you should put down on your list of movies to Netflix, add THE LONG RIDERS to that list.  It’s a terrific western with great shootouts, outlaws who look damn cool in ankle-length dusters, train robberies, a grimly wry sense of humor and wonderfully authentic looking atmosphere.  Enjoy.

 

Rated R

97 minutes