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True Legend and Jig: Two fistfuls of fancy footwork

A closeup from "True Legend"


The Chinese martial-arts blockbuster True Legend, and Jig, a modest British documentary about Irish dancing, share a common focus on ethnically specific fancy footwork. Each figures as a variation on the sports movie about hard preparation and triumph.

The Movement

True Legend, which was hailed as China's first 3-D film (though not in its current form), flopped at the box office there, although it's part of the Chinese movement to create historical blockbusters designed to compete with Hollywood.

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Jig follows the reality-TV fascination with performance programs featuring pushy parents, backstage dramas and glittery performances. Since Michael Flatley's Riverdance success, Irish dancing has spawned schools throughout Europe and North America.

The Directors

True Legend The best-known "fight choreographer" in the film business, Yuen Woo-ping ( Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, Kill Bill), returns to the director's chair with this revenge tale about a 17th-century general (Vincent Zhao) turned martial-arts master. The director's familiar arsenal of tricks includes slow motion, freeze frames, sudden jump cuts and acrobatic wire work. The downside is that he has scant interest in story logic: True Legend feels like four separate films, united by big fight scenes.

Jig Sue Bourne is a BBC television producer, who has made films on everything from the trials of a department-store Santa to teenaged girls' quest for perfect breasts. There's nothing fancy here - though she does throw in some slow-motion dance sequences.

The Competition

True Legend In the Indiana Jones-like opening scene, General Su Can (Zhao) leads a team to rescue a prince from a mountain fortress. Later, he chooses to live in the country with his wife and child and run a martial-arts ( wushu) school. But his envious, adoptive half-brother (Andy On) is out to get him. Armed with protective metal scales attached to his body and carrying skin-darkening poisons, the brother beats up Su and kidnaps Su's son. After being healed by his wife (Zhou Xun) and a mountain doctor (Michelle Yeoh), the now alcoholic Su enlists the aid of supernatural forces and learns his "drunken wushu" style before confronting his half-brother again.

Jig Competitors from around the world arrive in Glasgow for the 2010 World Irish Dancing Championships. A trio of friends (Simona Mauriello, Claire Greaney and Suzanne Coyle) vie for the 19-21 women's prize. Two girls, the chatterbox Brogan McKay from Derry, Northern Ireland, and the stoically focused Julia O'Rourke, from Long Island, N.Y., are matched against each other. Other stories follow a couple of future champs, the Billy Elliot-like 10-year-old John Whitehurst, and 16-year-old American Joe Bitter, both under the tutorship of the same English teacher.

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The Misstep

True Legend During scenes in which Su fights with the God of Wushu ( The Green Hornet's Jay Chou) in the company of an old sage, the silvery computer-generated backgrounds look like a crummy set from an old MADtv sketch.

Jig The now-standard look of female Irish dancers resembles the trashiest aspects of Little Miss Sunshine: de rigueur wigs of ringlets, fake tans and sequined dresses that costs thousands of dollars. How did this happen? Bourne offers no historical context for this relatively recent, ridiculous development.

The Solo Turn

True Legend In True Legend's last act, Su must fight a series of huge Ultimate Fighting-type foreigners led by an evil manager (the late David Carradine). The story has nothing to do with the rest of the plot, though it allows Zhao to run up his opponents bodies, delivering flurries of kicks and punches to their heads while the hometown crowd cheers.

Jig Sixteen-year-old American future superstar Bitter does a solo set which defines the athleticism and precision of Irish dance. You can tell from the awe of the other competitors that this kid is special.

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The Score Card

True Legend Somewhere between masterful and messy, Yuen Woo-ping offers lots of kinetic kicks, but his CGI work deserves a kick in the pants.

Jig Bourne shows little knowledge or curiosity about her subject and doesn't find its magic in this pedestrian documentary.

True Legend

  • Directed by Yuen Woo-ping
  • Written by Chi-Long To
  • Starring Vincent Zhao, Zhou Xun and Andy On
  • Classification: 14A
  • Two stars


  • Directed by Sue Bourne
  • Classification: NA
  • Two stars
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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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