Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain
(Suk san: Sun Suk san geen hap) (1983)
Directed by Tsui Hark

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * *

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In Medieval China, a young soldier named Ti Ming Chi (Biao Yuen) irritates his superiors and, when they decide to kill him as punishment, flees into the wilderness in order to save his life. Having subsequently fallen over a cliff, Ti wanders into a strange supernatural land, where he discovers the followers of an evil religion who are bent on sacrificing virgins to their deity. Fortunately, he meets, in quick succession, a powerful martial artist named Ting Yin (Adam Cheng), a monk (Damian Lau) who also happens to be a martial artist, the monk's disciple (Hoi Mang), and Chang Mei (Sammo Hung), a fat man who is able to use his extraordinarily long eyebrows as weapons. The last of these individuals then captures an evil monster known as the Blood Demon and keeps it imprisoned in a mass of rocks secured by his mighty brows, which he has caused to grow from his face like a pair of hairy tentacles. After Chang Mei announces that he will only be able to hold the demon for a certain period of time and that the others must retrieve a pair of magical swords in order to kill the creature, Ti, Ting, the monk, and his student set out on a quest to retrieve the weapons.

Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain is a wonderfully fun, nearly plotless, and incredibly fast paced film.


The movie is absolutely filled with countless outlandish elements and events, which appear on screen in rapid succession, one after another. The heroes leap through the air, perform various impossible feats, and fight a plethora of magical enemies. They encounter an incredibly old man who has chained himself to a boulder, but who, nevertheless, remains extremely deadly. They visit a supernatural countess (Brigitte Lin) who lives in a dreamlike castle surrounded by her female acolytes, and who is able to use her mystical powers to heal one of the heroes of an ailment inflicted upon him by the Blood Demon. The Countess and one of the heroes fight one another while mounted on huge moving statues of animals. The various characters travel to diverse strange and magical places, such as a dank underground temple, a glowing evil vortex, and a fantastic palace perched atop an impossible mountain. Even the battles they fight are infused with a sense of enchantment, being filled with bright flashes of lightning, glowing swords, and numerous other charming special effects. The movie really is a frequently exhilarating delight thanks to all these marvelous details and events depicted by the director.


Unfortunately, while Zu is ceaselessly moving and generally exciting, it is also so amorphous that it does occasionally lose the viewer's attention. What is more, the film's lack of structure is not its only fault. Much of the acting is less than impressive, and the director's attempts at humor are rarely funny. One scene, in which Ti tries to catch a fish, who actually laughs at his clumsiness, and the vegetarian monk later attempts to hide the fish's skeleton after he has eaten the poor creature, is, however, surprisingly entertaining. Sadly, it is the only successful comedic routine in the film.


I should at this point note that the movie also exists in an "international version" that incorporates the supernatural happenings of the original film described above as a dream imbedded in a dreadfully silly framing story about a young man (Biao) who falls in love with a mysterious girl (Moon Lee). The scenes shot for this version are included on some DVDs of the movie and, if watched, will help to remind the viewer how lucky he was not to have seen the international version. The extra scenes are truly atrocious.


Despite its often severe faults, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain is so filled with wild adventures, elaborate costumes, colorful special effects, and outlandish characters that it is genuinely entertaining.

Review by Keith Allen

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