DID YOU READ

“True Legend,” Reviewed

“True Legend,” Reviewed (photo)

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There’s nothing like a good martial arts movie like “True Legend” to make you feel inadequate as both a writer and an athlete. It’s bad enough to have to watch these men perform remarkable acts with impossible grace while you’re still sore from the mile you ran on the treadmill two days ago (I swear I have a six pack, you guys. It’s just nestled safely beneath a sixteen ounce bag of marshmallows). But then how do you explain what makes it great? You might as well try explaining a sunset to a man who’s lived in a cave his whole life. I envy the dance critic, who can write from their knowledge of technique, form, history, and context. As a film critic writing about martial arts I’m basically limited to oblique measures like wow factor and awesomeness.

Let it be said, though, that “True Legend,” from director and martial arts choreographer supreme Yuen Woo Ping, has plenty of wow factor and loads of awesomeness. After a thirty year career full of enough highlights to guarantee cinematic immortality, Yuen could make a movie like this in his sleep, but he pretty clearly didn’t. Directing his own choreography for the first time in fifteen years, Yuen brings an adventurous spirit to “True Legend.” The fact that he’s not content to merely rest on his laurels and rehash a couple of greatest hits is refreshing. Even if some of the new tricks don’t work, enough do that you’re glad he’s taking the risks.

His story is, indeed, a true Chinese legend about the man who invented the drunken fist style of martial arts. I suppose if you know this man, Su Can, a.k.a. Beggar Su (Vincent Zhao) dand his boozy tale, you might consider “True Legend” something of a prequel, since the film is mostly about Su’s adventures before he became a drunken boxer in 1860s China. At that time, Su was just another kung fu master with the physical gifts of a demigod. Happily married with a lovely wife (Zhou Xun) and son (Li Zo), his life is shattered by the return of his jealous stepbrother Yuan (Andy On), who has never forgiven his adopted father for killing his biological father (understandable, I suppose).

Now armed with the Five Venom Fist, a mystical punch that operates along the same principles as Bart Simpson’s Touch of Death, Yuan lashes out at Su and his family in an impressively varied series of action sequences. The big blowout of this portion of the film is a battle between Su and Yuan on a slippery deck above a waterfall. That’s where Yuan reveals his other secret weapon: body armor sewn right onto his skin. Yuan’s basically the most asskickingest emo rocker ever: his stepfather killed his real dad so he learned how to destroy people with a touch and sewed metal to his skin so no one could ever hurt him again. Oh, and he’s super pale, too. If he could have worked a reference to Weezer’s “Pinkerton” into his repertoire, he could have sold millions of albums ten years ago.

After Yuan throws Su across the sea and takes possession of his son, the physically and emotionally broken man must repair his body and rediscover his confidence. Along the way he meets cameoing superstars like Michelle Yeoh and Jay Chou, consumes gallons of rice wine, and, thankfully, gets himself into plenty more fights. “True Legend”‘s action setpieces find Yuen bringing new techniques like CGI and speed ramping into his tried-and-true formula of wire fu and beautiful, intricate choreography. Some of the new stuff works. Some, like the computer rendered landscapes during Su’s fights with Chou’s God of Wushu that look like they were rendered on a Sega Saturn, don’t. While I give Yuen major style points for experimentation, he’s still unquestionably at his best spinning new takes on old classics. The retro (but tremendously inventive) fight between Su and Yuen as they scale the walls of a well will be remembered and revered by genre fanatics for years to come.

Yuen’s work on the fight scenes in “The Matrix” inspired a decade of imitators. None of them could hold a candle to the real thing. Watching his work as both director and choroegrapher of “True Legend” I began to realize why; the knock-offs stole his flash but not his fundamentals. His camera placement and movement is always perfect and he doesn’t abuse slow motion the way so many of his lesser contemporaries do, only using it when necessary to heighten emotions, to let us dwell a few seconds longer on the face of a fighter as he summons his courage, or realizes he is going to lose as he falls to the floor. Space and time are always clear in his work; you never need to pause or rewind to understand who’s doing what to who. That’s because Yuen understands that martial arts sequences are more than bodies in motion, they are bodies telling stories in motion, and that’s what really separates his work from his copycats.

The resolution of Su and Yuen’s epic sibling rivalry, and particularly where that resolution comes in the narrative of the film, didn’t make much sense to me until I read about Beggar Su realized the character was something of a Chinese folkhero. Hence the film ends not with him at his lowest ebb, but after an otherwise unnecessary epilogue where he begins to truly harness the power of drunken boxing. But, of course, the great thing about martial arts movies, inferior though they may sometimes make us feel about ourselves, is that the plot is irrelevant, and any excuse to let Vincent Zhao fight three wrestlers simultaneously is a good one. Maybe I can’t quite describe the pleasures offered by “True Legend.” But I can definitely encourage you to experience them for yourself.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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