Zu Warriors

Zu Warriors (2001)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung, Louis Koo, Kelly Lin, Ziyi Zhang
Extras: Featurette

Tsui Hark is a living legend of Fantasia movies. In his long and industrious career he created some of the most mesmerizing, staggering and beautiful movies Hong Kong cinema has ever brought forth. As such I was eager to check out his 2001 film "Shu Shan Zheng Zhuan" or "Zu Warriors" as it has been titles for American audiences. It is a remake of his 1983 film "Suk San: Sun Suk San Geen Hap," also called "Zu Warriors" among many other titles.

The film tells the story of a legendary caste of warriors living at the peak of the Zu mountain, a mountain so high that its peak is always beyond the clouds. These Zu Warriors, who live as part of different clans, have mystical powers and are material for legends and myths. They can fly and are masters of magic and martial arts like no one else in this world.

But evil is determined to take over and rule the world and in order to accomplish this task, the Zu Warriors have to be destroyed. And thus begins a struggle between the armies of good and evil.

The original "Zu Warriors" was peculiar film, though not without its beauty. It was convoluted and confusing in many spots and the director had problems giving the story focus and cohesiveness to really drive the story home. Unfortunately the same is still true for the remake. This new version of "Zu Warriors" is equally unfocussed and convoluted and what makes matters even worse, it is one huge special effects orgy. Virtually every shot in the film has been enhanced with some sort of computer generated special effects. While some of them are fairly well-crafted, others are not, and just the overall assault of special effects kills everything the film may have had to tell in terms of a story. The film is practically drowning in its own visuals.

I do not want to say that "Zu Warriors" is unwatchable but it is hard to stay interested beyond the first 45 minutes and it is even harder to get emotionally attached to any of the characters in the film. As a result the movie loses impact and simply washes over you with its visuals and not even Ekin Cheng's good performance can lend depth to it.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment has included both the 80-minute US cut of the film as well as the original 104-minute Hong Kong version on this DVD. While the US version is edited down by 25 minutes, and you may think it tightens things up a bit, the fact of the matter is that it is making things even worse by completely mutilating what was left of the story. In fact, instead of making it shorter, "Zu Warriors" is a film that would actually require a TV mini-series or so in order to be told properly. There is simply too much going on and too much backstory to squeeze it all into a single feature film. I am not sure who edited this version but whoever it was had no clue about the history of the Zu legend and had no respect for Hark's intentions, simply hacking together "some" film that fits the 80-minute window. Pathetic, really.

The image of the transfer is very good and the print is free of defects and blemishes, though a bit of grain is evident in select shots. The anamorphic image holds a good level of detail, which helps the visuals tremendously, as Tsui Hark is reveling in colors and tinges so often. However, slight banding is visible in shots using subtle color gradients. Black levels are solid, giving the image good depth and making sure shadows are perfectly rendered without breaking up. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is without flaws, too. While not a stellar presentation it is good and without truly distracting flaws, but squeezing over 180-minutes of movie, plus a featurette and language tracks on a single DVD does have its price.

The US cut of the film comes with an English dub while the Hong Kong version comes with its original Cantonese soundtrack and English subtitles. The mix is good and makes good use of the surround channels while dialogues are always understandable and never drowned out.

As an extra the release also contains a "Making Of "featurette but it is in fact merely a promo featurette, supposedly from the movie's electronic press kit.

It is too bad that Tsui Hark once again falters in bringing the ultimate version of his "Zu Warriors" to the screen. The film features some of his hauntingly beautiful trademark shots and great action sequences but the special effects are just overkill. Nonetheless, if you want to enjoy "Zu Warriors," make sure to view the Hong Kong version. The US cut is an abomination and whoever at Buena Vista is responsible for the braindead mutilation of the film for US audiences should be fired on the spot.

Of course the film is a must-see for Tsui Hark fans, if only to compare it to his own 1983 version, but for the rest of us, "Zu Warriors" may be putting it on a bit too heavy-handed for its own sake.

On a sidenote, what's up with the DVD cover prominently featuring Ziyi Zhang when in fact she was a nobody when this film was made and plays only a minor part in the film? But I guess that is film marketing for you…