Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) Review
Showing at the Focus Hong Kong Festival, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain sets the landmark for an outstanding wuxia-fantasy film filled with comedy, drama and epic fights.
Based on the novel Legend of the Swordsmen of the Mountains of Shu by Huanzhulouzhu, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain is one of the most important achievements in Hong Kong cinema. Directed by Tsui Hark, the film is a wuxia fantasy film combining martial arts and supernatural elements to create a memorable epic.
Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain tells the story of a young soldier named Dik Ming-kei, played by Yuen Biao, who gets caught in a war between two rival armies during the Tang Dynasty. To escape fighting and hurting innocent people, he flees to a cave in the ominous Zu Mountain to seek sanctuary. His troubles aren’t over, as he becomes intertwined in a mystical realm and must help to save the world from evil forces.
After Dik Ming-kei disobeys orders, he is ultimately hunted down by everyone. He hides to avoid fighting and ends up meeting an enemy soldier trying to escape warfare as well. After initially going head-to-head, they bond over their displeasure with war and end up banding together to escape the battle. This leads to them pretending to fight each other while surrounded by enemies, playing dead and a plethora of other funny moments as they try to survive.
This takes all that is great about wuxia films and enhances it in every conceivable way
Amazingly, all this happens within the first 10 minutes of the film, dropping the audience into dynamic fighting and monumental music from the very beginning. Every costume shown on the battlefield is vibrant with incredible detail and the combat is mesmerising to watch.
The effects of the battles are enthralling. Combining elements of Hong Kong martial arts with special effects by Western artists such as Robert Blalack, this film is a milestone in technological achievements. It heavily inspired other Western directors such as John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.
Most film fans will be blown away by the effects, but modern audiences may sadly compare them to movies made in 2021. If you appreciate art and cinema, then you have nothing to worry about - you’ll be blown away by the pure creativity and innovation at work. The mixture of impressive sets, physical effects and technological triumphs blend together to create a work of art.
While Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain clearly has a protagonist to follow, it feels more like an ensemble cast. Each character is played brilliantly with a mixture of intensity and comedy. During the serious moments, you’ll be drawn into the drama and feel the ferocity of the situation. With the moments of comedy, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of each moment.
This is a charming film that’ll delight anyone who loves fantasy epics mixed with hilarious humour. Western audiences familiar with flicks such as The Princess Bride, The NeverEnding Story or Flash Gordon will absolutely love Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain. It takes all that is great about wuxia films and enhances it in every conceivable way.
From the beautiful music to the ground-breaking visuals, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain is unmissable.