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Miramax Pictures presents
"It's one thing to believe in the existence of immortals. But quite another to actually see them up close, to witness their awesome powers."
DVD ReviewThis might confuse you, so read carefully. The review you are now reading is for Zu Warriors, directed by Tsui Hark. This film was originally titled Legend of Zu when it debuted in Hong Kong in 2001. It was loosely related to a previous Tsui film, Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, which was made in 1983. Miramax, lovers of foreign cinema under the Weinstein regime, co-produced the 2001 film, presumably to cash in on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's success, but they sat on it for several years, after which they tried to pawn off a hacked up (quel surprise!), dubbed version entitled Zu Warriors. This proved, so I have read, an immense failure with test audiences. So now, it finally debuts on DVD, freed from cinematic limbo and dumped into the market. In a sensible move, the DVD includes both the original Tsui cut with Cantonese soundtrack, and the American cut, with 24 minutes lopped off and an English dub. It's only right you should pick your own poison, after all.
Trying to explain the plot is at first glance easy, but trying to do so with any depth proves frustratingly difficult. Essentially, there is the evil being Insomnia (Onyx in the U.S. cut), who wishes to conquer the Zu mountains, home of a group of immortals led by White Brows (Sammo Hung, reprising his role from the original Zu movie). The immortals must do battle against Insomnia, all the while fighting to overcome various perils.
The problem boils down to the script. The film lacks character development of even the most rudimentary nature; it plunges us into the battle between good and evil, and we are given only the merest scraps of information about each character. That said, much of the action makes no sense; events occur, or actions are taken, that are either unexplained or justified with sloppy exposition. Consequently, the film feels about twice as long as its 104-minute runtime. It makes me ill to admit it, but the shorter Miramax cut is preferable in this case. Even in that version, re-written as it is to try and patch over some of the gaping holes in character and plot, the film doesn't work very well, but it is more tolerable. If nothing else, it provides a lesson in how films are reshaped to make them more palatable for a different audience. And if you prefer the original cut, you can laugh at the re-naming of every immortal character as a color and animal combination, like White Lion, Red Hawk, Grey Heron, etc etc. As if that's easier to keep track of than the names used in the original cut: Red, King Sky, and Enigma (which at least sound cool).
The packaging plays up the participation of fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, since his profile is apparently higher than Tsui's these days. But to say that the film is "from the visionary martial arts master" is misleading. There are only a couple fight scenes that don't feature heavy use of CG, and they're exciting enough. Those that do feature some quite thrilling stuff, so it's really too bad they're stuck within such a dog of a film otherwise. Tsui's direction features loads of close ups, presumably saving further CG work, and the film has way too much music, which is generic at best. The costuming and design are quite nice though, with Red (aka Red Hawk) getting a notably striking outfit, with the bonus of CG metal wings. The heavy use of CG allows the imagination to run riot, and the benefits are there on the screen.
All the CG in the world won't save a non-existent script, though, and the actors are often left stranded by dialogue that doesn't really go anywhere. The acting in the American cut uses actors speaking in "Asian accent mode," which I still don't understand. All in all, the film is what it is: exotic eye candy. If you want to see a lot of crazy fantasy battles using fairly good CG, give it a shot, but don't expect anything coherent or involving.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: D
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer looks as colorful as I remember the Hong Kong disc being, but there is the odd shot here and there that doesn't look quite as good. Overall though, it's a fine picture, with occasional traces of edge enhancement. Generally speaking, I was satisfied. The subtitles are presented in easy to read yellow letters, which isn't preferable to white, but they appear to be literal subtitles. The subtitles on the American cut match that script version, which is quite different from the original version. Spanish and closed caption English subs are also available.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The original cut features the Cantonese soundtrack in Dolby 5.1. The 5.1 track is solid, with decent use of the surrounds, though it seemed a bit low in terms of volume. The English 2.0 track on the American cut sounded fine, though an upgrade to 5.1 would certainly been welcome.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Extras Review: The main extra is a making of documentary (18m:35s), taken from the HK disc, if I remember correctly. It bears the Legend of Zu title. The documentary includes interviews with the major players. It is subtitled in English, and if you like the film, you'll certainly want to give it a look. An insert is included that details the chapter heading for each version of the film, though the chapter titles for the HK cut appear to have confused King Sky with another character, Yang, leading to some incorrect chapter titles. A minor detail.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsSimply put, this film is a mess. Often beautiful to look at, but saddled with a story full of frustratingly oblique and/or nonsensical events that go nowhere. The DVD includes both the Hong Kong original and the shorter U.S. cut, so no one should have room to complain. Audio-visual quality is solid, and fans of the film should feel safe in picking this up.
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