Eureka Video: Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) - Reviewed

To experience Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain in the right frame of mind, one must let go of the notion that they will be able to follow the intricacies of the plot and character relationships completely while also absorbing the full delirium that is the fantastical battle sequences. Both of these elements taken separately are overwhelming and combined, they form a mind-blowing experience. Zu is partly a traditional style wuxia film and a love letter to special effects heavy films like Star Wars, a visual extravaganza where Hark pulls out all the stops and nothing is considered too over-the-top.

The basic premise of the narrative follows Dik Ming kei (Yuen Biao), an army deserter during the Tang Dynasty who ends up embroiled in a supernatural battle between demon vampires and mystical heroes. Dik is completely out of his element, a mere mortal amongst gods, being shuttled from place-to-place trying to figure out what the hell is going on and how he can survive. There is a large cast of characters and at times it's a bit hard to follow where allegiances lie, but the film itself is well aware of this fact, even taking time out to have a character literally point at some demons and go "Those are the bad guys!" 

Dik as a character is a great concept because due to his confusion is a surrogate for the audience and therefore has to have things explained to him (and us) throughout the film. The story isn't the most important element, and at the mid-point of the film is even pushed aside for some strange side quests. At the beginning of the third act Dik suddenly jumps up from resting at a campfire to proclaim "Oh yeah, hey we have to go do that thing to save the world!" and the story picks up where it left off. The film is quite humorous as well, with some great slapstick sequences and a few tongue-in-cheek self-aware references.

Dense story aside, the action in Zu is frenetic to the point of overload and absolutely amazing to witness. The fights are edited perfectly and they get so progressively insane that they just deconstruct into abstract metaphysical light shows with some of the most surreal images in the genre. There are lightning bolts shooting everywhere, flashy specials attacks, people flying all over the place--every second there is something entertaining happening. Hark brought in western Hollywood special effects artists to oversee his local Hong Kong team and in an ironic turn of events, this movie became the influence for John Carpenter's cult hit Big Trouble in Little China (1986), coming full circle.

There is a European export cut of the film called Zu: Time Warrior that has an entirely new opening and ending wrap-around story where Yuen Biao is a fencer in modern times who gets whisked away to the past to the events of the original film. Quite frankly, it makes even less sense, and large parts of the battles as well as most of the humor is removed. It's interesting as a curiosity, but far from the most ideal version of the film. 

The Eureka Video release is fantastic, with an excellent transfer and a plethora of extras:

Limited Edition O-CARD with new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 units]

Limited Edition 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 feature length 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

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]

--Michelle Kisner