Film reviews

Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983) – Blu-ray Review

Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain was advertised as ‘the film that inspired John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China‘ and on that sentence alone I was sold on watching it, knowing nothing else about it going in.

Luckily, the new Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment comes with a handy booklet that gives those who lack knowledge of the film some important background information on both the making of the movie, and the impact that it had on the Hong Kong film industry. Though not hugely in-depth, as there are are whole books written about the impact that Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain had, it does make you aware of just how groundbreaking the film was, and how what could otherwise be overlooked as a fun and over-the-top fantasy movie changed an entire industry.

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Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain was released in 1983, and is a supernatural wuxia fantasy film. Wuxia roughly translates to martial heroes, and is a genre of Chinese fiction centred around martial artists, usually in ancient China. Whilst Hong Kong cinema was producing plenty of martial arts movies at the time, which were finding a lot of popularity in the west, the use of the supernatural was almost unheard of, something that helped Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain immediately stand out from the rest of the crowd. The film was something of a revival of a genre that hadn’t been used for decades, and it made other filmmakers take note and realise that they could embrace the ghosts, demons, and ancient gods that made up the world of Zu.

The film centres on a young soldier, Dik Ming Kei (Yuen Biao), who deserts his post amidst a war that’s immediately made clear to the viewers is pointless and somewhat stupid, where normal people are being turned against friends and neighbours. Dik Ming Kei seeks shelter in the mountain Zu, where he stumbles across a tomb inhabited by monstrous vampires. Luckily for him he is rescued from certain death by the mystical warrior Master Ding Yan (Adam Cheng).

Impressed by Ding Yan’s abilities, and wanting to stay away from the war, Dik Ming Kei follows after the mystical master, begging him to take him on as an apprentice. Deeper in the mountains the two of them stumble across a demon-hunting monk and his apprentice, Yat Jan (Mang Hoi). The four of them are soon set upon by a demon cult, who then summon an ancient blood devil to earth.

With their masters poisoned by the evil of the blood devil, and only a handful of days to find a pair of legendary swords that can banish it back to the underworld, Dik Ming Kei and Yat Jan set out in a journey that will take them to a Celestial Fort, the top of magical mountains, and into the very bowels of the underworld itself.

There’s not much more that I want to say about the plot of the film, or much about the journeys that the characters go on as it would spoil a lot of the surprises and fun that seems to often come out of nowhere. Plus, its a little hard to accurately describe everything that happens in the film as it feels a bit like a fever dream half the time. Characters suddenly appear, magic that you’ve never seen before happens, mystical beings help or hinder the heroes, and there’s almost never an explanation for any of it.

Admittedly, this is a big part of the charm of the film, and more than once I was struggling to know what was happening, but loving the experience. The special effects are very cheesy, the wire-work is super obvious as they don’t try to hide any of the equipment, and the action is so over-the-top it borders on comical; but this made the film so much fun.

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The Blu-ray is also packed with special features, including an original trailer that will make you glad trailers aren’t made the same way anymore, and some interviews with some of the key cast members. The new release also comes with an in-depth interview with director Tsui Hark that was filmed in 2020 for this new release, which gives a lot of insight into the movie. One of the more interesting things included, however, is an alternate version of the film made for European cinemas, titled Zu: Time Warrior, which changes the character played by Yuen Biao into a modern-day college student who’s transported to ancient China.

Thanks to a dense and complex narrative, over-the-top action that you’ll want to watch again and show others, a host of special features including an alternate cut and full-length commentary, there’s a lot in the Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain release to keep you entertained for hours. Whether you’re an aficionado of the genre, or a relative newcomer, it’s something that you’re sure to be happy to have in your film collection.

Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.

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