Tsui Hark's wide-screen riot of color, movement, and sound
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., April 28, 2006
Tsui Hark's 1983 breakthrough film, Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain, has been remade (in 2001, actually, but the DVD has only now secured a domestic release), but not by Hollywood. Hark himself has updated his justly famed epic of exhilarating wire-work and serpentine eyebrow combat into a deliriously out-of-control CGI funhouse ride that rivals anything the West has ever done for the brain-blowing eye-candy genre. The story of a group of immortals and their battle to save the magical Zu Mountain from the evil Amnesia (Kelly Lin) and Hollow (Jacky Wu), Zu Warriors is nearly as incomprehensible as Hark's original (both are based on the writings of Huanzhu Louzhu), but then the Hong Kong director/writer/producer never was too big on continuity and accessible plotting. That said, this new Zu revue is almost unspeakably entertaining. It's the sort of loud, brash moviemaking you'd expect when a filmmaker (and UT alumnus) like Hark is given free rein to immerse his story in a dense, whirling thicket of computer-generated locations like the remarkable Zu, a fantastical series of mountain peaks reaching beyond the clouds and surrounded by a ringlet of floating, inverted crags, reportedly based on China's Huangshan Mountains and characters, but it's also never less than enthusiastic in its love affair with the tenets of HK fantasy. Rife with visual stunners such as Hollow's jaw-dropping entrance in the form of 100,000 flying skulls and the razored steel wings of Red (Louis Koo) that do much more than simply propel him into the next available battle sequence; this is akin to Hark on Christmas morning, giddy with the advances special effects have made available in the near-quarter-century interim. That Zhang Ziyi appears as the human fighter Joy says much about the uptick in Hark's cultural stock, as does the reappearance of the legendary Sammo Hung, here reprising his role as White Eyebrows, the master of hirsute expressionism. Sure, you could call this cacophonous clash of the titans a wire-fu throwback, but that fails to take into account Hark and company's obvious passion for the genre and the painstaking care his effects crew put into each new marvel. A wide-screen riot of color, movement, and sound, this is the chaos of Hark's inexhaustible creativity made real/reel, outlandish fun, and instantly, unmistakably his own.
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