Zu Warriors is one of those films that everyone needs to expose themselves to once. It has a crazed but cut-up energy, owing to a dizzying story line, unusually fast editing and long action sequences.
The story is so overwhelmed by what you might rationalize as the film’s style that it is difficult to come up with a synopsis, but here’s a go.
A Tang Dynasty soldier flees a battlefield and hides in a cave underneath the mysterious Zu Mountain. Here he meets a mythical hero dressed in white, who takes him as a pupil in his fight against a supernatural enemy that threatens the world. This heroic duo meets another heroic duo and the foursome sets off on an epic adventure. This includes encounters with a man using his very long eyebrows to restrain a powerful demon and a monastery full of fighting nuns. They also travel to the portals of hell and various evil caverns to fight their black-faced nemesis.
This Hong Kong supernatural fantasy classic has got crazier with the passing of the years. I’m sure it used to make a kind of narrative sense to me, but not anymore. I think it is too crazy for its own good. It might even induce a panic attack in some viewers.
Most of the time I had no idea what was going on, although I was very aware that whatever it was, it was going on very loudly and with a dizzying array of shlocky-but-kinda-cool retro special effects.
Director Hark’s big idea seems to have been to import fast Western style editing and Star Wars-lite effects to a traditional Chinese ghost story. It doesn’t really work, as it leaves the viewer with a headache; but it is worth watching as pure bonkers spectacle.
As tends to happen in popular Chinese films, there is lots of dialogue (in subtitles) providing lengthy plot exposition; but I wonder why the film makers bothered, as it makes nothing clearer and just confuses the subtitle-bound viewer.
As one of the characters asks during yet another rapidly edited and drawn-out fight that uses wire technology and image superimposition to excess: “What’s going on?”. To which his colleague replies: “We’re the good guys. They are the bad guys.”
It’s probably the clearest subtitle in the film and even then the blur of action renders it meaningless.
Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain is out on Blu-ray on 20 April 2020.