For most people, the Wuxia genre became most prominent in 2000 with Ang Lee’s Academy Award winning adaptation of Wang Dulu’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Since then, filmmakers like Zhang Yimou have blessed us with films like Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin.
Besides the wirework and often convoluted plotting, these graceful and poetic forays into balletic martial arts share very little in common with Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, but that’s no bad thing.
Taking the Saturday morning cartoon approach to mysticism, Zu Warriors is a cacophonous ruckus of laser swords, demons and flailing eyebrows. The first act is a relentless sprint of, “and then, and then”, storytelling that takes no prisoners. It’s certainly a movie that will reward additional viewings as the break-neck pace is a little full-on.
From the opening scene to the ten-minute mark we see Yuen Biao’s Dik Ming-kei being chased by an army, team-up with Sammo Hung’s red army soldier, get caught in a whole other battle and wind up at the titular magic mountain. That’s when director, Tsui Hark takes things up a notch.
Zu Warriors isn’t a historical Wuxia flick like Once Upon a Time in China. Shedding the veil of heightened reality to get to the weird, nutty centre underneath serves this martial arts fantasy incredibly well. The madcap silliness of each new character and scenario is liberally slathered with tongue-in-cheek humour that is executed as rapid-fire as the narrative itself. There’s also horror on this heroic journey.
Despite the wobbly sets and comedy there are stakes. There are characters that the viewer soon adopts who don’t make it to the credits, but the plot hurtles forward, leaving no time for poignant goodbyes.
At its core, Zu Warriors feels like a post-Star Wars, disco-fuelled 80’s fantasy with all the baggage that come with that. The only slight issue comes from the pacing, which suddenly becomes leaden in the rare quiet spots sparsely dotted in the chaos, however, this is a minor concern. This Wuxia fantasy is an absolute blast.
The costumes and set design are bursting with creativity that far exceeds the budget, the model work and effects are cute by today’s standards but effective in the moment, and the monumental sugar rush that cascades over the viewer is unlike anything encountered in more awards-worthy, prestige pictures.
Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain is available now on limited edition Blu-ray from Eureka and it’s a thorough recommend from me!
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.