I really am not overstating things when I tell you that Tsui Hark’s 1983 special effects opus, “Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain”, is a terrible, terrible movie. But on the plus side, it’s bad in the so-bad-it’s-good way. Essentially the forerunner to Hark’s 2001 remake “Legend of Zu”, the first “Zu” was made in 1983, and oh my does it ever shows. Even by early ’80s standards, the special effects is quite bad, which may explain why most, if not all, of the movie’s major battles take place either at night or in very dimly lit rooms or caves. All the better to hide celluloid imperfections, of which there many.
At the risk of being repetitive, I won’t bother to break down the plot (such as it is) of “Zu”. The simple reason being that the 2001 version is pretty much a remake of this older movie, only with better special effects. Some of the characters have been given bigger roles, others saw their roles reduced in screen time, but there’s no real difference between the two movies. (My guess would be that Tsui Hark re-wrote the original screenplay, added some scenes that he now knows he could get away with, and deleted others that seem too cheesy for 2001 standards.) Instead of Zhang Ziyi in the human-meets-superhero role, the original features Biao Yuen (“Avenging Fist”). And instead of taking the whole thing as a serious action/drama, the original is all goofy comedy.
You can’t really say that Tsui Hark failed at what he attempted back in 1983. Sure, the movie looks cheesy as heck, and you can pretty much see every wire that’s pulling the characters around the screen. Some of the techniques, like fast cutting and “morphing”, reminds everyone just how far Hong Kong had to go way back then. If you’re looking for a comedy, a movie to make you laugh, then “Zu” is a better movie than its 2001 remake, which takes everything so seriously you have to wonder if Hark ever had second thoughts. Then again, if you wanted serious superhero action, the remake is a muchbetter film.
Both versions of the movie has the same nonsensical plot — an evil something-or-rather decides it’s time to wipe out humanity, and our superpowered guys and gals have to stop it/him/her/whatever. What’s missing from “Zu” is Cecelia Cheung, although Hark does give us a young Brigitte Lin (“Bride With White Hair”) in her stead; the movie also offers up future American TV star Sammo Hung, who shows up briefly as an unnamed “Fat Man”.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the special effects in “Zu” are laughable, since few movies, even the American ones, had pretty cheesy special effects as a matter of course back in the early ’80s. If I had to guess, I would say that “Zu” is utilizing special effects from the mid-70s, which leaves it, at the time of production in 1983, just 8 years behind its American counterpart. The remake was (in my best estimation) only a couple of years behind its American counterpart. I guess that’s an improvement. Isn’t it?
Hark Tsui (director) / Shui Chung Yuet, Jerrold Mundis (screenplay)
CAST: Biao Yuen …. Ti Ming Chi
Hoi Mang …. Yi Chen