The Legend Of Zu (HK 2001)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/16/01
Produced And Directed By: Tsui Hark
Stunt Choreography: Yuen Woo Ping
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung, Louis Koo, Samo Hung, Jacky Wu, Zhang Ziyi, Kelly Lin

Holy crap! Visionary filmmaker Tsui Hark has pulled out all the stops this time, and this sequel to his original "Zu, Warriors From The Magic Mountain" (1983) is an overwhelming barrage of sensory overload. It's also almost completely unintelligible, so if you're looking for clear and concise storytelling, you'd better look somewhere else. This film takes us back to the time of immortals, gods, monsters, and magic. An evil demon called Insomnia is destroying various kung fu clans one by one. Whitebrows (Samo Hung reprising his Longbrows role) summons his two best warriors, King Sky (Ekin Cheng) and Red (Louis Koo), to oppose the demon, but their power is too weak. When Insomnia manifests himself in the Blood Cave, things get really serious and a new super weapon must be found in order to defeat him. King Sky and Red hook up with Enigma (the reincarnation of King Sky's teacher/lover) and Hollow, who are the guardians of the last clan and masters of the Heaven Sword and Thunder Sword. Things get even worse when Whitebrows disappears and leaves King Sky in charge, and Red gets possessed by an evil fairy (Kelly Lin). Finally, after much confusion, Heaven and Thunder successfully merge, and King Sky manages to combine the power of the mind, the universe, and regeneration into a super weapon, allowing the good guys to wipe out Insomnia and his nasty blood clouds. The Zu Mountains are safe once again and the power of good will flourish.

This is a fantastic looking and awe-inspiring film, combining live action with over 1600 special effects shots. A truly monumental undertaking, with a whopping $90 million budget - totally unheard of for an Asian film. Tsui Hark's incredible visual flair makes this film the ultimate example of style over substance, and only a few directors could succeed in making such an empty and pointless film so mesmerizing and entertaining. (George Lucas immediately comes to mind) Thirty minutes into the film I still had no idea what was going on, but I didn't care because I was so captivated by what was going on visually. Storywise, there's nothing new here - good versus evil in the world of martial arts, yin and yang swords, and the like. It's the scope and presentation that makes it so fresh. It's an action film throughout, so there's not much going on in terms of drama and acting. Ekin Cheng does his normal "thoughtfully pensive" routine which I'm quite frankly rather tired of. Cecilia Cheung is painfully pretty and utterly delightful to watch - especially when she's dishing out massive destruction with her Heaven Sword. Exploiting the international success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), the immensely charming Zhang Ziyi shows up in a meaningless cameo role and engages Ying (the reincarnation of Hollow) in the film's only hand-to-hand fight scene. It's a brief, but spirited sword fight that's extremely rewarding. If you like visiting extraordinary realms of fantasy and magic captured through the eye of a master visual artist, this is definitely a film worth seeking out. Otherwise, you'll probably just be frustrated by it.