Dik Mingkei (Yuen Biao) is a lowly soldier in fifth century China who is faced with a dilemma. He has been scouting the position of his army's enemies, and it looks as if they have their foes on the run, but how should they approach? One of the generals demands that they approach by the river, the other by land, and Dik is in a quandary about who he should follow: first he says both, then he says neither, then the generals start to chase him to execute him for insubordination. Dik manages to escape, and encounters a fat soldier (Sammo Hung) from the other side who he has a brief scuffle with until more soldiers from different armies show up for a battle and the two men join forces - to get out of danger, that is...
Reputedly inspired by the success of the Star Wars films, director Tsui Hark's Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain saw a plethora of special effects being added to the traditional martial arts movie and was a great influence on many similar films that came after. Written by Shui Chung Yuet and Jerrold Mundis, it presents a non stop barrage of action and adventure set against a China that is divided by civil war, with unbounded energy and is frankly difficult to follow after a while with its deeply involved mystical myths and legends. Fortunately with this cast it's always clear who we should be cheering for as Dik makes his way through an increasingly bizarre landscape.
The fat man doesn't hang around for long, but Dik finds himself in a derelict temple that turns out to be haunted, complete with glowing-eyed, cloth wrapped spirits out to do him harm. He holds his own against them for a short while, but eventually has to be saved by a passing swordsman, Ding (Adam Cheng) who uses his magical powers to fend them off. Dik decides he will stick by this new ally for protection, but Ding doesn't seem quite as keen; nevertheless he accompanies him on his quest to destroy a school of evildoers, where they are joined by a monk and his apprentice Jin (Hoi Mang) - cue more action.
After a while you'll be wondering when the story starts for real, as Dik's experiences are episodic to say the least, although the cracks are papered over by, yes, more action. What happens is that Dik encounters a holy man (Sammo Hung again) who catches him with his long eyebrows and beard, and then persuades him to go and find the twin swords of legend. Why does he need these? Because he has captured the Blood Demon that has been giving Ding and company so much trouble, but he can only hold him for forty nine days, when the demon will break free and destroy humanity. It should be noted that the holy man is using his eyebrows to hold the demon - which is trying to protect itself with skulls - in the sky. It's that kind of movie.
If this sounds ridiculous in a straight faced, deeply serious kind of way, nothing could be further from the truth. The comedy aspects are played to the hilt by the willing cast, even as they fly around on wires, and the whole thing is endlessly imaginative. It's just easily distracted, as in a minor way, when Dik has to catch a fish for his lunch which turns around and laughs at him, or in a more major manner as when the monk is infected by a demon and has to be taken to an ice fortress to be cured there by the Countess (Brigitte Lin). An anti-war message about unity being more harmonious than dischord simply enhances the mayhem, and without irony considering the chaotic surroundings. All the way through, the pace never falters, and the special effects, which, granted, have now been surpassed by CGI, mount up to create a breathless reverie that still entertains today.
Hong Kong director, producer, writer and actor and one of the most important figures in modern Hong Kong cinema. Hark majored in film in the US, before returning to his homeland to work in television. Made his directing debut in 1979 with the horror thriller The Butterfly Murders, while 1983's Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain was a spectacular ghost fantasy quite unlike anything in HK cinema at the time. Other key films of this period include Shanghai Blues and the brilliant Peking Opera Blues.