#78: Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)

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Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, and Corey Yuen star in this hyper-kinetic supernatural comedy, Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain, a special effects laden wuxia film from Hong Kong director Tsui Hark about an ordinary Chinese solider who, after stumbling into a world of fantastical supernatural battles between the forces of good and evil, must embark on a quest to save the universe.    

Timestamps:

  • [00:00] Films we’ve been watching, Chainsaw Man, Shenmue the Animation, Anno’s Shin Ultraman Trailer
  • [49:05] Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain Review
  • [2:15:38] Twitter Questions

If you have questions or comments about the show, please feel free to shoot us an Email or leave a comment below.

Thanks for listening!

3 thoughts on “#78: Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)”

  1. Gentlemen:
    I’m not going to challenge how you felt about this movie. Your feeling is legit. But I also feel you are missing a lot of things. So if you have the patience, allow me to point a few things out.

    1) Other than Golden Harvest and Jackie Chan, Zu is one of the most important movies in HK cinema history post Bruce Lee. It so blew up the cinema and showed what else can be done with old sfx dressed in new clothes and technologies in the 80s. It completely reinvented so many old techniques, only now they look completely new. Paradoxically, it’s the Hollywood light and magic stuff toward the end that aged the worst. My personal favorite is still the old temple fight scene early on. These are not stop motion, miniatures, green screen, or cgi but the same stuff in old kung fu wire-techniques just shot better using simple mirror tricks, smart lightning, really athletic people (wirefu still needs great athletes), and a whole lot of insane composition. People wouldn’t even be able to shoot a scene like that today using only practical effects and real bodies. And, if you put yourself back to 1983, where there were nothing like it East or West, that shit is pure genius, man.

    2) Zu is super important that it shows there is still life in the old xian-xia cinema (“xian” as in immortal, or supernatural, vs. wuxia which is martial hero with crazy skills but nothing supernatural, vs the kungfu genre. They didn’t use that term back then, but xianxia definitely existed as a genre. The term was coined pretty recent, I’m guessing the last 10 or 15 years). Xianxia genre was all the rage in the 20s, the 30s to pre-WWII, the late 40s after the war, the 50s, and gradually dying out in the 60s. After Zu, everyone and their mother bum-rushed the old movie mines for materials, remaking old b&w fantasy movies from the 50s and 60s, and they are still doing it today (only the PRC cinema sucks compared to HK. They just feel different). Yes, the 80s Chinese Ghost Story is one such remake. But it also brought out other “folk tales”, esp. Cantonese ones, only now it has kungfu, special effects, and physical comedies. Those formula led to gems like Encounter the Spooky Kind, Mr. Vampire, hell, even my favorite Shaw Brother’s last hurrah: The Bastard Swordsman and Bastard Swordsman 2. These 2 movies are nothing shot of insane and the best pre-cgi kungfu flicks with tons of practical sfx, ever.

    3) Did you watch Zu on a VHS or DVD? If you did, then oops! Zu, must, be, watched, on remastered BluRay (real film reel even better), and preferably os big a screen as you can find. Even a 80 inch is barely passable. When I watched it in San Francisco Chinatown the first time, it soooo blew everyone’s mind! We were jumping up and down for days remembering all the old b&w fantasy wuxia movies from the 50s and 60s. But when I finally got to ratched it again years later in Denver, off a bootleg VHS from a Chinese grocery store, it was like, the hell? What happen to all the details? The sound, the energy? Everything is dark. All the stuff in the background, gone. Over the year last 30 years I must have owe 8 or 9 different versions on different formats, and it’s only recently (last year) when I got my hands on a remastered Blue Ray, did it come close to what I saw on the big screen. When I hear Zen or one of you said some of the big action scenes were confusing, I had a feeling you might have done yourself a dis-service by watching it off the wrong format. May be you had even watched the Mandarin version. You may not care if it’s in Mandarin or Cantonese, but trust me the Mandarin version is horrible! It completely zaps all the energy and cadence of the original Cantonese dub.

    4) Seriously, the dialogue, the expositions, and to a large extent the plot, in a Chinese kungfu or action movie, does, not, matter. The Hong Kong action cinema is unique (which is for all intent purpose, now dead. The financing system is gone, the thought police are in, and the old film makers and actors have either retired, emigrated, or dead): in the simplest term, HK cinema is an extension of old school circus and Cantonese operas. People went to these cinemas for the same reason they went to the rodeo: they are only there to see the action and the spectacles. Also, half the time they already know the story, and if it’s based on a martial arts novel, hell, then it’s just all cliche anyway. The Chinese had been writing the wuxia stuff for so long everything is just a reharsh. Master White Eyebrow is literally speaking the truth when he said only good guys wear white. It’s literally an opera/kungfu on stage tradition. The audience is just not going to be confused by who the good guys and who the bad guys are (Beijing opera masks and customs are all for that effect: to wow the audience with the beauty, and also to communicate with the audience in the very back row of the opera house who probably couldn’t see the expression on the actor’s face if he’s not wearing a mask). So, the plots and dialogues are just not all that important. Even for non Chinese speakers who may not be familiar with these genre cliches, my recommendation when it comes to Hong Kong action flicks is try to find a dub, or read the synopsis B4 hand. Just don’t get distracted by the subtitles: Watch the action when it comes on, don’t even look at the subtitles. You can always go back and read it if it’s important to you… which for a lot of kung fu or wuxia flicks, they don’t. Like old Bruce said (in spirit rather than verbatim) Don’t miss the glory of heaven by my finger pointing at the moon

    5) The Chinese had been writing martial stories in one form or another like forever (the concept of xia in wuxia, meaning the wandering hero, I think goes back to Han Dynasty circa 1st Century AD, but it might be earlier). The modern version was cemented in around the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the works of “Huanzhu Luozhu” (penname literally means “The Master of the Tower of the Returning Pearl”). Huanzhu Luozhu penned probably one of the longest wuxia/xianxia series… which includes Zu. And yes, you were right, the countess at the end, Li I Chi, was in other books of this series. She was one of the most important protagonists in the series. She started not knowing any martial arts and eventually became an immortal. I think there was an old b&w Zu movie in the 60s but not 100%. Regardless, Huanzhu Luozhu’s Zu and other works became the template for all the xianxia and wuxia novels unto today, including the current explosion of Chinese web lit (some ungodly quadzillion-zillion xianxia or wuxia amateur works are on line every year, mostly terrible from what i hear. The scene is crazy). Huanzhu Luozhu was also the literary father to the two most important wuxia novelists in history: Louis Cha (Jin Rong) and Gu Long. While Louis Cha is more literary and arguably better writer, it is Gu Long who had a bigger influence in the Hong Kong action cinema, comparable to Huanzhu Luozhu and the Ching Dynasty writer Pu Songling (super important writer). Gu Long penned short works, short works that took place in a China that had never been, and therefore much easier to adapt to cinema. His works were the bases of so many Shaw Brother martial mysteries, a combination of martial arts, pretty people, weird villains, all on a giallo stage representing a chromatic China after they stole Mario Bava’s suitcase of color gels. Yeah, if you haven’t watched very many of these Shaw Brother films, most of which directed by Chor Yuen, I encourage you to. Chor’s body of sexy crazy wuxia work is far preferred to Chang Cheh’s not-so-subtle homoerotic kungfu by many aficionado. I could go on but I gotta go to sleep.

    6) There seem to be a number western researchers writing about old wuxia novels and HK martial cinemas recently, much like a while back there were hundreds of dissertations about the history of manga or anime. You might want to check up on some of these yourself since I’m only relying on my memory which is shaky at best. I saw one book advertised on Amazon, “Paper Swordsmen” by John Christopher Hamm, on the subject of martial arts novels. I might even pick up a copy myself. It might help you enjoy Zu more the next time you re-watch it.

    I was going to proof read it, but fuck it. I’m too tire4. Mind the bad grammar typos, and misspelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Colonylaser,

      These are all totally valid points and great insights. I hope it didn’t come across as if we didn’t enjoy the film – I picked it for a reason after all haha. And while our recording might have focused on some of the mroe critical aspects, during the movie we all were having a blast watching it.

      Also, yes we watched it on my dvd which was… well, VHS quality might be putting it too kindly. I didn’t even realize there WAS a blu ray out. I’ll hunt it down and watch it (again haha).

      Thanks for listening and filling us in!

      Like

      1. No you didn’t come across not enjoying the film, but even if any of you did, I think that’s fucking awesome. Hate like you love to hate; s all good, man. It’s better than everyone enjoying the latest MCU offering like a fucking robot that they can’t even remember what they’d watched just a few days later. Not having everyone enjoy a film equally is super great; it means the filmmaker took risk and didn’t trying to suck all dicks like the chicken shit in Hollywood or HK today (more preciously the PRC. Jesus Christ! This is the country that made Raise the Red Lantern, The Horse Thief, and Devils on the Doorstep. What, the, fuck, happened? Oh yeah, Capitalism. That’s why I mostly stick to anime these days: super risky but the reward is great… Bikini Warriors anyone?). Hell, I myself still don’t care for The Godfather. Mob characters and their behavior just irks me, and I can’t relate no matter how Soprano they get. It’s not that I don’t like antiheroes, heck, I like Golgo-13, Lone Wolf and Cub, Walter White, Eren from AOT, and Kira from Death Note, but portrayal of real Italian Mafia or Irish mobs pisses me the fuck off. (In contrast, there really aren’t too many movies on true Chinese gangs or the Yakuza, who are just as big a scumbag as every other criminal organization in the world. Most Asian movies involving gangsters are either cartoony, sanitized, or a modern take on old wuxia martial schools only with guns). That said, I do recognize Godfather to be a great film and an important one. Kind of the same way with Zu, Snake in Eagle’s Shadow, and A Better Tomorrow. None of these are perfect films, but all of them took risk, and in the process completely changed the 80s HK movie landscape

        Like

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