Martial Arts / Fantasy
The Legend of Zu (Zu Warriors)
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Dir: Tsui Hark
Star: Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Louis Koo, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Cert / Year: - PG 13 / 2002
Format: DVD R3
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The Legend of Zu tells of the story of King Sky (Ekin Cheng) , a lone warrior who has dedicated his life to learning martial arts and whose teacher, Dawn (Cecilia Cheung), declares her love for him before she loses her life when the evil entity known as 'Insomnia' attacks the martial arts gods at their seat of power the Zu mountains. Two hundred years later, Insomnia returns to destroy Zu but unkown to Insomnia, Lord White Eyebrows (Sammo Hung) has been training his students and with the help of his star warrior 'Red' and King Sky (who has now mastered the awesome 'Moon Orb') he hopes to stop Insomnia once and for all..... But Red isn't all that he seems, Dawn has been reincarnated as Enigma and the dreaded blood cave has opened to drain the positive energy from Zu......

A prime example of a film with all flash and very little bang. Legend of Zu has plenty of outstanding and impressive special effects that blaze across the screen with sumptuous spectacle and imbue a certain 'wow' factor to most of the battles and combat. The action / fight choreography is by Yuen Woo Ping so tends to look a bit Matrix-esque in places but the expert directorial eye of Tsui Hark works well and makes most of the fights look fresh.

Unfortunately this isn't anything new, as Hark is merely updating / reworking one of his older and most influential films Warriors from Zu Mountain which of course was one of the inspirations for John Carpenter to make Big Trouble in Little China. I'm afraid that this new adaptation although a good idea, as some of the elements from Warriors from Zu Mountain could have really benefited from some an injection of modern technology just doesn't work very well. What you get here is a distinct feeling that someone wanted to make a showcase for CGI and special effects, indeed it feels as if the filmmakers have merely reworked the original story around a series of effects from their CGI showreel. I am supportive, and all for Hong Kong cinema doing something bold and new, and Zu Warriors could have benefited from some good effect work here and there but not necessarily in this package. The effects weigh the film down and appear to be the primary focus of the film and as such, the film suffers. The original film, set new standards and was a groundbreaking piece of martial arts / fantasy cinema but this has just had a lot of money (no matter how well spent it is) thrown at it to produce some showy but imaginative effects work along a thinly laid story.

This film certainly won't appeal to everyone, as concentration is required to understand the difficult to follow story via the subtitles (when they can be bothered to add them). The subtitling has blatant gaps in it especially when you get half a sentence and then nothing for several minutes whilst the dialogue continues on screen. It appears that the selective subtitling has omitted huge chunks of the dialogue which ultimately serves only to baffle and confuse. This does ensure that most viewers unaware of the original film's plot just won't get this one.

To be honest, this film works better on a second viewing and is still visually impressive with an abundance of grand and impressive special effects, but you are afforded an opportunity to regain what you may have missed out on first time round. It is still hard to escape the fact that you feel as if you are missing the beginning of the film, as the proceedings kick off in the midst of a major battle and the small introduction does little to really lay out the back-story and setting.

Zhang Ziyi, does virtually nothing throughout the film and you can't help wonder exactly what she was supposed to be doing here. It is obvious that she was shoe horned into the film after the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and everyone thought that she was the best thing since Michelle Yeoh (why exactly, it is hard to say!). But her appearance was an obvious attempt to draw a wider audience and attract the fans of that film to this, unfortunately it doesn't really work and the fact that the film hasn't had a wide theatrical or DVD release is testament to it. Had Legend of Zu been afforded an international release, the darned flighty and annoying subtitle problem could have been avoided by a more concise translation and proper subtitles. Plus it may have also warranted a dubbed English track for the viewers who are unable to or don't like to read the subtitles.

Some reasonable performances especially by the excellent Ekin Cheng as King Sky. I do like his work, and films such as A Man called Hero and The Storm Riders are good examples of his abilities in this genre. Cecilia Cheung provides good performances as Dawn / Enigma, King Sky's 'love interest' if you will, she plays the 'heroine' and handles the action well and is quite watchable. A good ensemble cast deliver some cool performances and look great against this backdrop of fantasy heroplay. The excellent Sammo Hung reprises his role of White Eyebrows (much thinner than last time though) but is terribly underused here, and vanishes off into another realm half way through the film.

Personally I like it, having been a big fan of the original I have been trying to get hold of a copy of this film for years. Ok, so this isn't as great a film as the original but it is a flashy, fantasy action fest which is unmistakably Asian and all importantly, entertaining. As usual, a strong sense of duty, honour, love and of course the eternal battle between good and evil all play a part here, not to mention some mighty 'chi' weapons and of course a touch of magic. Adding to the fairytale feel of the film, magical and mystical warriors fly effortlessly through the air to do battle against the forces of evil threatening their peace and harmony (No, Not George W. Bush). There is some fabulous photography, complimented by a rich palette with some vibrant colour, and some excellent action which, are all typical Tsui Hark trademarks. But, the story appears to be a bit of a mess, which I do believe to be primarily due to the terrible subtitles on this Japanese release, which let everything else down. This fusion of traditional Asian fantasy swordplay and computer effects is reminiscent of The Storm Riders and in that instance it worked very well with a good balance between the various film elements, but here effects are dominant. If I want a dumb action movie full of CGI then I can watch The Matrix Reloaded or something equally poor but I don't expect it here, no matter how good it may look. There are better Asian films out there but surely it must be about time for Tsui Hark, to deliver another original, traditional martial arts piece, like Once Upon a Time in China.

Glitz's say:

The Legend of Zu is an almighty mess of a film. It typifies everything that is wrong with American effects movies and brings it into an Asian cinema setting. Mimicking much of Hollywoods more recent output a cohesive narrative and plot have been replaced by endless pretty but ultimately pointless CGI.

On the plus side the effects are great. The is some real state of the art eye candy on show, however it quickly becomes apparent that that is all there is. This isn't a film at all but a effects show reel, and as such the top range acting talent involved is completely wasted.

There are problems with understanding this film due to the terrible job that has been made of subtitles, but although they are abysmal it is a fault that merely paper overs a weak post Monkey script. With Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon leading the way in terms of the balance between a realistic story and fantasy martial arts there is little place for the mystic ravings of be-costumed old men sporting daft facial hair who live in magic mountains. This sort of thing has nowadays become a sorce of spoof mterial for an international audience. Asian cinema has come a long way since producing it so churning out this silliness now is no longer acceptable.

I can't in any way recommend this film. It is a throw back to a bygone age mixed with a worrying turn for Asian cinema as they look to copy Hollywood's worship of the computer effects. It just isn't good cinema, and in places its so bad its unintentionally hilarious. If you want a film with great effects and yet has room for a decent (if not pretty bizarre) plot then try Volcano High, otherwise watch Monkey it has a far better story and is far more entertainingly camp.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Taglines

Surrender Your Illusion , Fight For Your Destiny

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

DVD
Picture 1.85:1 Widescreen Good transfer
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS Not bad but no dubbing and only
Making Of" Documentary
Production Notes
About the Characters
About the Film
Trailers
Verdict Not a bad release with a couple of extras but the subtitles are a bit of bug bear as they are intermittent and unclear, at times topping completely they really do detract from the film. If this had a proper Western release I am sure this problem would be corrected. Other than that a nice looking and sounding release.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home