Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain

"Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain" (1983)
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Starring: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Adam Cheng
Review by: "Machine Gun" Kristin

Golden Harvest produced film, "Zu Warriors", plays almost like a Chinese version of "Monty Python" at times with elements of surreal Japanese film"Hausu/House". It has this really great comedic tone to it throughout, whether it's intentional or not. It's part buddy comedy, part bad ass action/martial arts (Wuxia) movie. I think many really horrible modern movies try to capture this balance of comedy and action, but always fail miserably. Upon watching modern James Bond abomination "Quantum Of Solace" with family during Christmas, I couldn't help but be hit over the head with how strange new, mainstream movies are filmed and edited. The amount of cuts in a scene is dizzying to say the least. While "Zu Warriors" had camera shots in its action scenes lasting maybe 5 seconds, "Quantum"s would have several cuts, at least 20 each second it seemed like to the point where you had hardly an inkling as to what was happening. It's jarring to say the least, or is just done poorly. There are a few quick cuts in "Zu", but they quickly fade into one another and are noticeable if you're looking for it.

The underlying element to "Zu Warriors" is the human nature of constant fighting among one another for no specific reason. This ignorant anger is fueling an entire underworld of evil. The Zu's are various colored armies from different parts of 5th century China. They seem to have no real agenda and have these orders bought to them by their commanders who seem to be just as clueless as to why there's all this unfocused carnage. "Youngster" Dik Mingkei's (Yuen Biao) problems begin when his own commanders cannot agree with each and order his own army, on his side, to kill him. He runs off and finds solace in a foe turned friend (simply known as "Fat Man", played by Sammo Hung) from a different army, bonding over the absurdity of war. It was adorable seeing them get along so well, finding out they're in fact from the same part of town. I think if listened close enough, you'd hear "I'm Happy To Be Stuck You" by Huey Lewis And The News.

"Zu" is insanely action packed, with a cast of really attractive and talented martial artists. The cinematography is just plain ridiculous, with it's beautiful, otherworldly imagery and mind blowing aerials from the cast. I remember awhile back when "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" became mainstream water cooler fare for it's Oscar nods and its actors flying through the air. I'm not sure of the first instance of this technique, but it's always so impressive to watch. I loved the brightly colored and some cartoonish (in the best way possible) on screen effects of the Evil Sect, Blood Crows, explosions, swords and much more. The visuals and story are unrelenting; there is no lull or boredom to be found here. We're introduced to character upon character who all have their own unique contribution. After Dik falls off a cliff, he finds himself chased by what appears to be blue-eyed Star Wars Jawas. After being saved by Ding Yan (Adam Cheng), a Kung Fu teacher, Dik finds himself studying under his wing, despite Ding's reservations. They meet a pair of "good guy" monks from another Kung Fu school, Reverend Hiu Yu and Yat Jan (Mang Hoi), who also consist of a teacher and his bumbling student. They're at first wearing this super wacky hamburger bun shaped helmets. We soon meet the villains of our story; the Blood Crows and the Evil Sect, whose voices sound like they're coming out of a distorted fast food drive thru speaker.

Flaming pizza, anyone? 

There's thousands of virgin boys skulls (yikes) and these are used to protect the essence of the Blood Crows after leaving their physical body from an attack. They are lying somewhat dormant in hopes to resurrect themselves at a later time. Although, not if an old man named Chang Mei/Long Brows (also Sammo Hung), can help it. He's keeping this sphere of spikes and skulls on a tight leash using his own facial hair. He has the power of a Sky Mirror (which I immediately thought of the recent bankruptcy of airline catalog, "Sky Mall" haha) and it will last 49 days until its energy runs out.

yep, this is really from Sky Mall

Many events still occur after all this craziness. We head to a fort located underwater inhabited by tough, beautiful women with their leader Ice Queen/Countess (Brigitte Lin) who has ability to heal people. There's twin swords to save the earth and an old man self-chained to a ball, his body covered in quills.

We are DEVO!

The overall message in the story is absurdity of war and fighting with one another. "Zu" is insanely entertaining and amazingly shot. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack by Kwan Sing-yau and Tang Siu-lam. The story isn't too hard to follow either, although like most Asian cinema, sometimes the plot can get lost in translation. It's available with the original Chinese dialogue, an English overdub track and decent English language commentary from director Tsui Hark. Hark is probably best known for the cult hit, "A Better Tomorrow" (1986), but he's still making movies even today. There is supposedly another print of this film bookended with a "present day" storyline tacked on to make it seem like "Zu" was all a dream. In the commentary for Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter mentions how blown away he was by this film and it was a major influence on his own Asian action supernatural classic. "The Legend Of Zu" (2001) is the sequel. 

Watch the trailer:

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