Movie Review: Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain

Posted: February 13, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983 Golden Harvest Dir. Tsui Hark)

Shhh! Can you hear that? It’s the sound of me being a pretty, pretty man.

I used to think that some of these Hong Kong movies didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense because they were re-edited for America, or because of translation errors, or even because of some cultural thing I didn’t know about. Now of course, I know better. Sometimes these movies don’t make any sense because they don’t make any damn sense. There is only so far you can allow yourself to take a movie before admitting that the problem might be with the storyteller and not the story. That isn’t to say the movie is bad, but the opening has almost no narrative, just events. 20 minutes in and we’ve only hinted at the idea that there might be a plot.

Sooo this guy has four Ghostbusters behind him?

This isn’t to say these first 20 minutes haven’t been entertaining in their way, but it hasn’t told much of a story and we only have 90 minutes left. I will say this though, for the time and the place, the special effects are pretty darn special. There is an over reliance on jump cutting and under cranking (might possibly be some frame dropping in there too) but you have to remember what they had to work with. You can kind of see where comments like Tsui Hark wanted to be the Steven Spielberg of Hong Kong came from. It’s not that he’s aping Spielberg’s style to any great extent, it’s more the idea that balls and energy and some know how can make up for a lack of funding. If you’ve seen Kung Fu movies before this, and then movies made after this, it’s pretty clear how much influence Tsui Hark had on the market. This even went so far as to be one of the major influences for Big Trouble in Little China, so it must be good.


The story itself is rather basic if you’ve seen enough fantasy and ghost based Kung Fu flicks. A young man is part of a battle between color coded armies, he takes refuge on a mountain, is attacked by monsters, saved a white clothed swordsman who he begs to take him as a student. They meet a couple of monks, fight off some nasty demon bad guys and then meet a guy who fights evil with his long eyebrows and beard. And we’re only 35 minutes in.

The magic fortress set comes with everything you see here, figures sold separately.

In order to kill the evil Blood Devil, they have to find a green sword and a purple sword which I guess are the only thing that can kill it. They have 49 days to perform this task. Along the way they are beset by more demons, met witches both good and bad, and use pretty must every kind of effect available at the time. In some ways the effects are extremely cool, if for no other reason than for the wide variety of effects used. An interesting effect I noticed is how rarely the camera moves. For a movie that moves so much, the camera work itself is fairly static.

If only this sword were out of its sheath, then I could admire myself in it.

It’s never boring, but it’s often bewildering. Not in a bad way, but certainly in a double u tee eff way. There is probably a cooler story behind this movie if I could get a hold of translations of the 40 volume book that this is supposed to be based on. It’s good anyway, it’s just it moves fast and some of it makes you shake your head with its absurdity. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, they go nuts again.

No idea what’s going on here.

The end is less a real ending of the story as it is a platitude that the young will inherit the earth and that youth is just great. I know the young will inherit because it’s mentioned about 87 times in the 110 minutes. The end battle is kind of disappointing. It’s more special effects than action, probably worked better as a book. The movie is visually interesting, but intellectually a bit vapid. Still, it’s okay for what it is.

They’re as bewildered as you are by this point.

My copy of the DVD is a region 3 import that you can get here if you’re interested. It has some deleted scenes, an alternate beginning and ending, some interviews and other stuff like that. Mostly I suggest this one because it’s Fortune Star, who have remastered a lot of movies into good DVDs and I’ve liked their work.

Together, they form an interpretive dance duo fight crime.
Official Score:
25 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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  1. I am becoming a kung fu movie fanatic. It has been creeping up on me slowly and one of the first movies that first got to me was Warriors from Zu Mountain. I first saw it over 10 years ago and it didnt make any sense to me whatsoever. But I thought it was a glorious and crazy spectacle and it made me want more of the same. I rewatched it last year and it made more sense to me then so maybe I’m getting my eye in. But I’ve always maintained that kung fu movie makers never let trivial things like a cohesive plot get in the way of a good movie.

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