“Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain” is the first Hong Kong production to combine traditional HK actions stunts with Western special effects. At the 3rd Hong Kong Film Awards ceremony, the film received five nominations.
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Zu is a collective name of a mountain chain located somewhere in present-day Sichuan. Being a place of great military importance in ancient China, it was always a battleground between various warring factions. Nevertheless, it was also a place of great mystique due to numerous exotic peaks and old temples. An army deserter Dik Ming-kei (Yuen Biao) is accidentally attacked by vampires in a cave, but he is rescued by Master Ding Yan (Adam Cheng). Dik Ming-kei does not realise that he entered the underworld where good is in an eternal struggle against evil (controlled by the Blood Demon). Chung Mei (Sammo Hung) can hold the Blood Demon in captivity only for 49 days until the stars shift. In order to stop the Blood Demon, Dik Ming-Kei must find and assemble the purple sword of Heaven and the green sword of the Earth in order to save mankind.
“Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain” is a classic action-adventure tale crafted by brilliant Tsui Hark. I know that such a statement will not give the film justice, but it reminded me in many ways about Ralph Bakshi’s “The Lord of the Rings” (1978) animation, mostly because the two pictures share similar fantasy aesthetics. Nevertheless, “Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain” is a live-action flick which wonderfully combines old-school wire work with cell compositing effects.
The only disadvantage of the film is uneven pacing. There is a lot of stuff going on during 98 minutes of runtime and the viewers really have to pay attention to what is happening. However, the movie makes up for its shortcomings with a zero-to-hero story structure, great special effects, and an ensemble cast of magnificent actors.
With regard to performances, Yuan Biao is great as the main protagonist. There are also amazing performances of Adam Cheng, Brigitte Lin, Moon Lee, Sammo Hung, and Judy Ogg. Interesting music score by Kwan Sing-yau and Tang Siu-lam also deserves to be mentioned.
The success of the film ultimately pushed Hark to release a semi-sequel “The Legend of Zu” in 2001, but it was not favourably received. Allegedly, the director wanted to bring back Brigitte Lin to reprise her role of the Ice Queen, but she declined.
If you are in the mood for a fantasy adventure, then “Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain” the choice for you. The film is exciting, funny, and unique in its own right. It is an unforgettable milestone from the Hong Kong film industry.