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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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One League of Social Consciousness
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   Legend of Zu, The  


The Legend of Zu

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Chinese Title: Shu shan zheng zhuan
Director: Tsui Hark
Writing credits: Lee Man Choi, Tsui Hark
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung, Louis Koo, Zhang Ziyi
Language: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Action
Year released: 2001
Runtime: 104 min
Rating: zero (out of four stars)

The Legend Of Zu (LOZ) is a remake of the original 1983 movie that launched Tsui Hark’s career, Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain. Boasting a fresh-faced cast and an astounding number of effects shots (totaling over 1,600), LOZ is meant to be the next step in martial arts/fantasy movies. However, in devoting so much effort to the special effects, Tsui Hark seems to have totally forgotten about the importance of character development or the plot. An over-the-top, plot-less, characterless mess of a film, LOZ is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. If not for some of the special effects, this would have been a total flop.

Set in ancient times, LOZ features a group of immortals training on a floating mountain range called Zu, each leading a sect of disciples toward attaining immortality. Trouble is imminent, however, as Insomnia, a powerful demon, unleashes an attack on the Zu Mountains. Combating his efforts is a menagerie of immortals, White Brow (Samo Hung), a venerable immortal in charge of the Er Mei sect; King Sky (Ekin Cheng), sole successor to the Kun Lun sect; and Red (Louis Koo) and Enigma (Cecelia Cheung), the two eldest disciples of White Brow, amongst others.

Falling prey to the trickery of Insomnia, the immortals allow the Blood Cave to be invaded by Insomnia, which makes him increasingly powerful by the day. As Insomnia absorbs power from the Zu Mountains, the various sects in Zu succumb to his minions’ machinations. White Brow leaves the dimension in order to search for a third weapon to combat Insomnia, leaving King Sky in charge of matters. King Sky is troubled by the memory of his former teacher, who has been reincarnated as Enigma. Meanwhile, Red, who has been delegated the job of guarding the entrance to the Blood Caves, is possessed by a demon and converted to Insomnia’s side. Without the crucial third weapon, all would be lost.

If anyone thought that the plot synopsis is complicated, you cannot be closer to the truth. LOZ’s plot is exceedingly convoluted, and most audiences will feel confused in the first reels of the movie. So many characters are introduced so summarily, without much explanation, that it all becomes very confusing very fast. Subplots are introduced in rapid succession, and dropped in equally quick time. Zhang Ziyi’s appearance in the film is the best example of such behavior.

Her character in the film, a mortal war general, is nothing but a glorified extra. Her scenes are extremely limited and serve no purpose in advancing the plot, in fact at times detracting from the flow of the movie. Her romance with an immortal is equally pointless, and never truly bears any significance. Nor is there a true denouement to their love. Yet, the Miramax trailer features Zhang Ziyi for much longer than it does any of the main characters, which is probably explained by her presence in the incredibly successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I have never endorsed a movie because of its special effects, and probably never will. Special effects are meant to be an augmentation to the actors of a film, a prop that directors can use to create greater visual effect or to achieve the impossible. In LOZ, this is not the case. Actors play second fiddle to the slew of visual effects employed in the movie. Although there are an extreme number of effects shots, most of them are generally pointless, and are what could be considered ‘for-the-sake-of-it’ visual effects. To add insult to injury, not every effect looks good, and several even look rather amateurish.

The actors themselves are nothing to hoot about, either. Ekin Cheng looks stoned throughout the film, and simply stands around, letting the endless gusts of wind tease his long, unkempt hair (one can argue that the hair did a better job of acting than he did). Cecelia Cheung, whilst looking rather beautiful, doesn’t seem to do much at all. The same goes for the other cast members, but there is no one worst than the actor playing the monk, who is dubbed in a very grating, high-pitched voice. He also gets, hands down, the worst costume in any production I have watched this year. The second worst of the year: Louis Koo’s breathtakingly bad costume after he becomes a demon. Don’t even get me started on the numbingly bad dialogue, which received many heckles in the cinema I was in.

All in all, a terribly disappointing movie, after all the hype it has generated for a large part of the year. Strictly for fans of Tsui Hark or computer graphics only.

Final Word: A LOZ-er of a movie.