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Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain
This 1982 Hong Kong kung fu, sword fighting fantasy is one of legendary director Tsui Hark's early successes and even though it is a bit dated it stands up well to his more notable films such as Peking Opera Blues and Chinese Ghost Story.
The film's plot is difficult to comprehend (even if you speak the language) and recounting the various twists-and-turns is not too easy. Basically, a young man named Ti Chi (Yuen Biao) goes to hide from a nearby battle and ends up in a haunted mountain that happens to be the gateway between the realm of good and evil. There he is confronted by a magic swordsman who has been trying for years to save the world from being consumed by the Kingdom of Evil. They team up -- with the help of a couple of monks and a princess -- to prevent the spread of evil in the universe. But eventually most of the team is killed so -- against overwhelming odds –- Ti Chi and one of the monks (Adam Cheng) get together and go in search of a pair of Celestial swords that, when joined, have the power to save the universe.
The film is a fast paced, cartoon-like fantasy full of over-the-top sword fighting, in-your-face action sequences, bizarre shape shifting monsters, a matriarchal kingdom led by a beautiful princess (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia of The Bride with White Hair), an evil demon who possesses everyone it touches and a guy who fights with his eyebrows.
The film is as crazy, surreal and fun as it sounds and it bounds along with an arcade game abandon. Characters bounce off the walls with pinball effect and -- since most of it was shot using animation and older mat techniques -- the whole film has a cheesy fantasy action feeling that looks something like a 1970's Hollywood B movie -- kind of like the look of Jason and the Argonauts. And due to its convoluted plot it takes at least two viewings to sort out everything.
The print is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.77 and the transfer is passable at best. There are many scratches and splotches throughout the print, the colors are too soft and the image is occasionally too dark. There is noticable compression artifact and edge enhancement. No restoration work has been done and the print seems to have been transferred from videotape.
The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it sounds okay if not a bit muffled. Plus, like many 80's Hong Kong films, it has been poorly dubbed. There is a choice of audio tracks in either Cantonese or Mandarin.
The only extras are talent files and two trailers; one for Zu and the other for Heart of the Mountain. The film has subtitles in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Thai. And they can be removed all together if you want to just watch it after you get the basic story. There are eight chapters and the film is 97 minutes long.
This film has a good cult following and it should be seen by anyone interested in either Tsui Hark or Hong Kong sword fighting fantasy films. It's difficult to follow at times but -- if anything -- that helps the movie's repeat viewing status. And it does hold up well on a second viewing. The DVD transfer is not too good but since the film doesn't aspire to be great cinema it doesn't suffer too much from its poor print condition. Hopefully, restoration work will be done in the near future. Until then this will have to do.