Tsui Hark (director)
20 April 2020 (released)
25 April 2020
Here is an utterly bonkers supernatural adventure whose ‘plot’ is near impossible to comprehend. Therefore to a Western audience the emphasis lies firmly on its special effects (jaw-dropping for 1983 that is). One of the most important cinematic achievements of Hong Kong cinema, ZU WARRIORS has influenced filmmakers all over, including John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.
Set during the ancient Tang Dynasty, the unfolding action focuses on army deserter Dik Ming-kei (Yuen Biao) although strictly speaking he is not a deserter but merely can’t decide where his loyalties lie. Now in cahoots with Red Army soldier Chang Mei (the ever reliable Sammy Hung) the two escape to the magical mountain of Zu, following a hefty martial arts fight sequence involving members of the rainbow army. However, inside the mountain cave they’re not safe for long either as they are attacked by a swarm of bat-like vampires with glowing eyes though they are saved by Master Ding Yan (Adam Cheng).
This is followed by an ambush by the nasty Blood Devil though thankfully Dik Ming-kei and Chang Mei receive backup in the shape of devil chaser Siu Yu and his pupil Yat Jan. They all join forces with Master Cheung Mui in the search for the Dual Swords, which enable them to destroy the Blood Devil. Until that can happen they have to endure many more hair-raising moments and encounter multiple bizarre characters including the so-called Ice Queen (Brigitte Lin received a ‘Best Actress’ nomination). One of the many highlights is a priest holding on to an escaping (!) and gigantic rock via his expandable eyebrows and a light-sabre fight which bears homage to Star Wars.
Don’t worry if the plot seems utterly confusing (not helped by the fact that the subtitles are too fast to follow any text) - just enjoy the crazy goings-on and the highly inventive characters.
The film is based on the Xianxia novel ‘Legend of the Swordsmen of the Mountains of Shu’ and has been noted for blending the fantastical mixed with tongue-in-cheek combat scenes. The special effects (truly impressive at the time but perhaps a little ropey by nowadays standards) was provided by a team of Western artists including multi-media visual ace Robert Blalack who worked on the special effects of the original Star Wars movie.
ZU WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN received 5 nominations at the 3rd Hong Kong Film Awards in 1984, including ‘Best Action Choreography’.
It has just been released in a brand-new 2K restoration on Blu-ray, with an array of Special Features, including the export cut of the film, interviews, alternate opening credits plus an episode of ‘The Incredibly Strange Film Show’ from 1989 (hosted by Jonathan Ross) dedicated to director Tsui Hark.