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The Zu Gang: Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain on Blu-ray

  Director Tsui Hark made his reputation as one of the most innovative of the action directors out of Hong Kong in the 1980s, especially in the West, with his 1983 wuxia Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain. Notable as one of the most ambitious fantasies of its era, it may not have set the cash tills generously a-ringing in its native land, but abroad it was a tremendously exciting experience among cult films fans who were seeking entertainments from far flung lands that were just exotic enough to represent a kind of explorer mentality in those who watched them. They were not for everyone, but for those who responded, they were like gold.

Of course, in Hong Kong itself this item did not stand out as much among its contemporaries, and the major new star of the region was Jackie Chan, not so much Yuen Biao who was the star here. Chan and Yuen had been tutored together along with that other member of those Three Musketeers of kung fu, Sammo Hung. Sammo was in this too - in two roles, first as a rival soldier who Yuen strikes up an unlikely friendship with for a short amount of time, then later as the long-eyebrowed mystic who uses said facial appendages to keep the power of the fire demon who is the cause of much of the problems in check.

Famously, while everyone in Zu managed to look as if they knew what was going on after about half an hour's running time, almost everyone outside of Hong Kong were baffled, making this one of the most entertaining incomprehensible films of the twentieth century, never mind the 1980s. Drawn from a novel to emphasise Tsui's interest in the resurgence of fantasy literature of his childhood, this was a melange of demons, fairies, magic monks, possessions, wizards and more, all fired at the audience in a barrage of wild imagery and frequently goofy sound effects. The other inspiration was a certain worldwide blockbuster of 1977.

That was, you guessed it, Star Wars, and just like almost every other major (or even medium) movie market around that late 1970s period there were attempts to cash in from Hong Kong, Tsui having secured his (relatively) generous funding from backers dazzled at the thought of a Star Wars from Asia. If it did not turn out that way, it was not for lack of trying, as the director trained up a bunch of special effects technicians under the guidance those of other film industries to replicate what they had achieved (though according to Yuen, just as much time was given over to simply watching science fiction flicks and working out how they did the effects from videos!).

The plot may not have had to have made perfect sense, but in a funny kind of manner it did hang together while you were watching Zu, as if it was a fairy tale you were being told as a child that went over your head, but amused you anyway. It was a film of immense charm, much of that thanks to the cast who went about their roles with humour and sympathy, apart from the villains who were appropriately menacing. To sum up that storyline would likely be a futile task, for it was both too complex in its myths and legends and more enjoyable to allow the avalanche of craziness just bury you for the ninety minutes or so it took to experience it. It was quite something.

Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain is released on Blu-ray by Eureka with a host of extras, including an hour-long interview conducted in January 2020 with Tsui Hark especially for this disc. But buried away amidst the other interviews of an earlier vintage is half of an episode of Jonathan Ross's 1989 documentary series Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show. After making his name with late night chat show The Last Resort, he began making documentaries about his favourite subject, films, and of course this being the 1980s he had to cover Tsui Hark and the New Wave of Hong Kong cinema, including a focus on this film.

Tsui is interviewed of course, and his background in a more politically left wing, radical style of filmmaking is discussed which he moved on from to be more popular in his homeland with works as director, writer and producer: A Chinese Ghost Story is debated and its influence is shown in clips from other movies that perhaps have not gone on to be as celebrated, if anything, they're fairly obscure. The other half of the instalment was on Stuart Gordon, but being irrelevant here is edited out, however if you have any fond memories of being introduced to this style of cinema by the efforts of Channel 4 in the UK, then this is a trip down memory lane. All in all, this disc is the perfect introduction to Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain if you have never seen it, and the perfect reminder of its sheer enjoyment if you have.

Here are those special features in full:

• Limited Edition O-CARD with new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 units]
• PLUS: A collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film [2000 units]
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a brand new 2K restoration
• Cantonese, and English soundtrack options, original monaural presentations
• Newly translated English subtitles
• Brand new and exclusive select-scene audio commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns
• Brand new and exclusive interview with Tsui Hark - a lengthy and in-depth interview with director Tsui Hark filmed in 2020 exclusively for this release
Zu: Time Warrior [93 mins] - the export cut of the film produced for European theatres, featuring a wraparound segment with Yuen Biao as a modern-day college student who is transported, Wizard of Oz style, to 10th Century China
• Tsui Hark - episode of Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show originally aired on British television in 1989
• Alternate opening credits, restored to their original Western presentation
• Archival Interview with Yien Biao [12 mins]
• Archival Interview with Mang Hoi [20 mins]
• Archival interview with Moon Lee [20 mins]
• Trailers

Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018