Fantastic Fest's Unforgettable Events: Yuen Woo Ping's Tribute
by Alex Billington
September 26, 2010
How many film festivals can you go to where the RZA himself presents a Lifetime Achievement award in the form of a sword to filmmaker & martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo Ping before screening his new film True Legend. Oh and after watching that and a fascinating Q&A, they showed a print of the first film Woo Ping directed, Snake in Eagle's Shadow. And if you're still not tired then, you can go and sing karaoke at an all-night party held at the Alamo Drafthouse's sister lounge, The Highball. Yep, that is Fantastic Fest for you, and there's nothing like it in the world. And I keep coming back every year because it's that awesome.
I had to take a quick trip back to Los Angeles, so my first day at Fantastic Fest consisted of watching Patrick Hughes' Red Hill, a kind of modern Aussie western, Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend and Snake in Eagle's Shadow, and a second screening of Jim Mickle's Stake Land (which I first saw in Toronto and loved). But it was that "Woo Ping Experience" (that I'll call it) that reminded me why I love this fest so damn much. It's not just that they brought him out here, but it's the love they have for him (he got two standing ovations) and also that Tim League decided to show one of his classics, too. Like I said, where else does that happen?
First, before I go any further, I must say that I totally enjoyed True Legend. Especially comparing it Snake in Eagle's Shadow, which was made in 1978, it definitely seems like Woo Ping was trying to push the limits of martial arts yet again with this new film, both in terms of the fight choreography and the visuals. Maybe it's because I'm admittedly not the most experienced in martial arts films, but I've never seen anything like it, and Chiu Man Cheuk truly kicks some serious ass in numerous fight sequences (they're incredible, all martial arts fans need to see this!). It has a little taste of everything, all kinds of different fights (and a huge "battle" sequence at the end), and although the script is a bit rough around the edges, I enjoyed every second of it.
True Legend has three big acts set across different time periods and it follows Chiu Man Cheuk as Su Can who, while a kung fu / wushu expert, decides to leave the military during the Qing dynasty to start a family. But of course his evil "blood brother" eventually turns against him and comes back for him. The story is a bit convoluted and jumps around rather suddenly, but I loved the style, the characters, particularly the villain who is a lot darker than I would've ever expected, and I especially loved the fights. Plus, there's a sequence or two where the "student has become the teacher" and it seems as if Woo Ping was inspired a bit by The Matrix (which he did the fight choreography for anyway) with some bullet time-like moments, but they were still great to see.
Although I love seeing all kinds of new, obscure, and highly anticipated films at the different festivals, my favorite moments are the truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences I'll never forget, that only each particular festival can offer. And at Fantastic Fest, the presentation with Yuen Woo Ping last night was one of those unforgettable experiences that I do believe only Tim League and Fantastic Fest could have (and did) deliver. Toronto Film Festival's Midnight Madness head Colin Geddes was even at the event to support Woo Ping and deliver his Lifetime Achievement sword (see a photo here). There was just something truly wonderful about seeing Woo Ping in person and RZA bowing to him and everything about the event.
Fantastic Fest isn't your typical film festival. They can bring in big talent just as easily as some of the other more well-known mainstream fests, but it's still as far from a mainstream fest as it can possibly be. It's a place where film geeks, movie nerds, genre fans and everyone in-between can come and watch great films, meet great people, and just have a damn good time. This is now my third year attending and only my first full day at the fest, but I'm already having a blast. Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend was a great martial arts escape and an amazing experience. I can't wait to see what else Tim League has in store for us over the next few days, as I'm sure there's a few more surprises and many more unforgettable evenings. Stay tuned for more coverage from Fantastic Fest from both Jeremy and myself.
Photos of The RZA and Yuen Woo Ping seen above borrowed from BSR-12 on Flickr.