aka 新蜀山劍俠 aka Xin shu shan jian ke 1983 Written by Shui Chung-Yuet and Sze-To Cheuk-Hon
Directed by Tsui Hark
My life having gone through the binge period of renting blurry Hong Kong VHS second generation dubs with hard to read subtitles from locally owned video stores in the 90s, Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is one of those films that unleashes giant waves of nostalgia. Despite the bad conditions it was being viewed under, the energy and effects magics caused it to rise above the masses. I’ve since seen it on first generation VHS, vcd, and DVD, each time being a fun experience as an idealistic young fighter is caught in the world of wuxia masters, who turn out to have just as many problems as the normal folk (only their problems are a million times more dangerous!) With Tsui Hark’s direction (and choreography work done by Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Biao, Fung Hak-On, and Mang Hoi), Zu is visually distinctive. The choreography and effects jumpstarted the look of modern Hong Kong film from the 1980s, while the color and humorous tone helped distinguish it from the Shaw Brothers films that it often shared rental store space with.
The effects look a bit dated now, flying people on obvious wires, old school makeup effects, and cartoon lasers zapping around. But a lot of the practical effects still look nice, and the pulsating monster seems more dangerous as a jiggling puppet than it would as just a bunch of lifeless CGI. The effects were pushed to show that Hong Kong could produce films on par with Star Wars and other early 80s effects-laden films from Hollywood. While I don’t think they quite match the talent, much is accomplished on what is obviously an insanely smaller budget (and Hong Kong effects would develop much further thanks to experience from producing films like this one!)
Despite the effects, much of the film is character driven. Dik Ming Kei’s endless idealism, Ding Yan’s tough exterior hiding a lonesome and good man, Yat Jan being a royal screw up, and the Ice Queen being the total opposite of her name when it comes to Ding Yan. It’s Moon Lee’s first major role, she would go on to be a major player in the Girls with Guns films of the late 80s/early 90s. Brigitte Lin began her domination as a martial arts queen that would ripen with Swordsman II and The Bride with White Hair.
The energy of Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is infectious, it covers so much that we’re sprinting from concept to concept. Despite that, the basic story is simple to follow. They even stop to remind everyone that it is just good vs. evil!
Dik Ming Kei (Yuen Biao) – A former scout turned man fed up with war, who then gets entangled in drama in the martial world. He will become involved on a quest to literally save the planet. Through it all, his optimism and hope for the future becomes almost as powerful a weapon as the martial art skills he learns along the way.
Ding Yan (Adam Cheng Siu-Chow) – Ding Yan of Nam-Hoi, a lone martial fighter who fights against evil and lives a solitary life. Ding Yan is proud and stern, but he’s also loyal to his friends.
Yat Jan (Mang Hoi) – The student of Hiu Yu, a goofy klutz who doesn’t feel he is worthy to carry on the legacy of the Kwan-Leung school. Needs a healthy dose of confidence. Wears a turtle shell on his back.
Hiu Yu (Norman Chu Siu-Keung) – Leader of Kwan-Leun school and trains his student, Yat Jan. Is called Heaven’s Blade. Poisoned early in the film, requiring the help of the Ice Queen.
Ice Queen (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia) – the Lady lives in her secluded palace and has the power to heal those injured by supernatural means. But it also costs her much energy to heal them, and she usually decides to heal or not to heal based on fate, things ouside her control. Her isolation is argued to cause her to be cold, but she does have humanity in her (as evidenced by her interactions with Ding Yan)
Ice Queen’s Guard (Moon Lee Choi-Fung) – One of the guards of Ice Queen’s palace, she is tricked by Dik Ming Kei and Hiu Yu when they embarass her to try to get past. She gets revenge on them by embarrassing them much more, and is the only member of Ice Queen’s crew to escape her palace. She joins the heroes on their quest as she has nowhere else to go.
Chang Mei (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) – Founder of Ngo-Mei School and fighter against evil. He holds the big villain at bay for 49 days with only a mirror and his eyebrows, surviving only with the hope the dopey goofs he sent on the quest to save the planet actually get their act together.
1969HKMDB link Directed by Chan Lit-Ban
Written by Sze-To On
Taiwan has been a source of lots of rarities, but for once let us look at a Taiwanese rare film that doesn’t have giant monsters in it. Sad, I know, but we’ll have more Taiwanese giant monster flicks soon enough. Instead, we got a sort of fantasy film that has a demon dude and funky kung fu powers, but only goes over the top in various parts. There is good fight choreography, best I have seen so far from a Taiwanese production back then. There are also lots of blood sprays and blood packs that make the sword kills rocking good fun.
Little Devil is also known as The Devil Warrior. It does not look like it was ever released in the US, so get your butt to the rare tape circles if you want a hold of this one!
Now, TarsTarkas.NET doesn’t need no stinking subtitles, and we especially don’t need no stinking subtitles when the subtitles are only in Korean! The language spoken is Mandarin, which my wife can understand but not well. So even though I scored a coup by actually getting her to watch this one (probably due to her recognizing Bobo Fung) the words were flying by too fast to catch all the small details, but we should have all the big ones. Most of the rest is a guess based on what is happening onscreen and the plot synopsis off of the HKFA.
Yeung Siu-fung (Petrina Fung Bo-Bo) – Despite being a boy, Yeung Siu-fung is played by a girl! Totally unheard of in Chinese cinema. I mean, totally normal in Chinese cinema, the weird films are the ones where everyone is the correct gender. Fung Bo-Bo was nicknamed “Shirley Temple of Hong Kong” as a child star, the daughter of actor/director Feng Feng. Her most recent role that Western audiences will know is 1992’s 92 Legendary La Rose Noire (unless you recognized her cameo in All’s Well Ends Well 2009.)
Chui Yuk-wah (Nancy Sit Ka-Yin) – Speaking of weird gender stuff, Yuk-wah is a girl played by a girl who disguises herself as a boy. Nancy Sit was a teen movie queen who retired to be married, raise kids, and get divorced. Oops! Thus, she returned to show biz in the popular Auntie Ho tv series and made mad money, and even popped up in The God of Cookery and Black Rose II.
Pak-chuen (Chiang Nan) – Yuk-wah’s father and evil dude. He hate orphans so he kills Siu-fung. He’s so evil his daughter runs away, and then he uses his magic eye power kung fu to attack Sound Devil.
Sound Devil (Gu Sam-Lam) – Sound Devil is a crazy devil guy who always has a weird look on his face, flies around, spends his spare time being buried in snow, and also rescues murdered orphans and trains them in kung fu. Just like the real devil! Gu Sam-Lam is also known as Ku Sum-lam
Mui Yau-tang (Adam Cheng Siu-Chow) – Owner of an inn with his sister. Yau-tang longs for some action in his boring life, but he can’t even get the guests at the inn to pay their bills. Gets more than he bargains for as the film progresses. Adam Cheng is probably best known to cult movie buffs for his role in Fantasy Mission Force as the boss of the female tribe, and he also appeared in The Eight Hilarious Gods.
Mui Fung-kei (Sum Chi-wah) – Sister and co-owner of the inn that Siu-fung and Yuk-wah end up at, and thus she and her bro get dragged into the drama going on.
Hong Kong does their take on Hakkenden, the tale that gave us Legend of Eight Samurai and Message From Space. Except it is a pure comedy and no one marries a dog. That’s good, as this film is about as related to the traditional Japanese story as Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter is to the Gospel of Luke. It does have some recognizable Hong Kong stars (even to Western audience members only slightly familiar with Hong Kong cinema) and some nice fantasy fights for a comedy, but isn’t afraid to dwell in the poop jokes or to murder children just so the audience can go “WTF?” So let’s all go “WTF?” together!
This version of the film comes from one of those double-VHS tapes, found in the double-size VHS boxes that old-school video stores had. The only video store I know by name that still carries those is Le Video in San Francisco, but some of the old-school Chinatown rental stores have this as well. The double-tape explains why there are numbers after the title, because there are two title screens, one for each tape. Old school is the best school, baby! There ain’t no forced commercials here like on DVD. Sure, the picture quality isn’t the best, but it’s not like this film is begging for a remastered DVD. It should be remastered.
Ben (Adam Cheng Siu-Chow) – Ben is a high-level fairy who misplaced six magic pearls that just happen to be the pearls Lucifer is going to use to try to destroy the world. Except there is also this prophecy that says six people will show up to help defeat Lucifer, so now Ben is looking for them. Adam Cheng was in a film entitled Sup Sap Bup Dup as well as playing the boss of the female tribe in Fantasy Mission Force, so that’s enough street cred for me to give him a thumbs up!
Buddy Wall (Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu) – One of Heavenly Goddess’s fairies who attempts to stop Satan. Not powerful enough to face him alone. Has a crush on Ben, and is part of a running gag where no one finds her attractive. Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu is a famous Hong Kong comedienne.
Lotus (Rosamund Kwan Chi-Lam) – Brutal proprietor of the Dragon Gate Inn, who beats those who complain about her service. The whole Inn is a scam to rob customers with a freezing mist, and she collaborates with Uncle Cheung in this scam. Rosamund Kwan is probably best known here for playing Aunt Yee in the Once Upon a Time in China series. Prophecy mark – Love for one’s elders.
Lousy Han (Ng Man-Tat) – Lousy Han is a loyal friend who lets his buddy Smart Hon walk all over him. He gets into trouble constantly, but always with a smile on his face. Ng Man-Tat is in a whole mess of Steve Chow films, as well as many other efforts. Prophecy mark – Loyalty.
Uncle Cheung (Lawrence Cheng Tan-Shui) – The effeminate tour guide leader and fellow conspirator in Lotus’s robbery scam. Lawrence Cheng Tan-Shui has made a career of playing stereotypical homosexual goofballs, from his own shows to films like this and The Storm Riders. Prophecy mark – Mercy.
Smart Hon (Deric Wan Siu-Lun) – Smart Hon is the brains behind the Hon/Han group, but he isn’t as smart as his name implies. His greatest ability is avoiding getting into trouble. Deric Wan Siu-Lun is probably most recognizable as Emperor Kang Xi in the two Royal Tramp films. Prophecy mark – Justice.
Sheriff Lee (Shing Fui-On) – Looking like a crazy wild-man, Sheriff Lee is desperate to solve a case before he’s demoted. He is willing to do anything. ANYTHING. Even his mother won’t stand in his way. Shing Fui-On has appeared in more films than I can count, probably most notably in God of Gamblers. Most of them were without the crazy makeup. Prophecy mark – Filial Piety.
Uncle Tsao (Peter Lai Bei-Dak) – Information collector and informant. Likes Lotus, but instead ends up with Uncle Cheung! Not a happy camper. Prophecy mark – Faith.
Lucifer (Lau Shun) – The devil is an evil mo-fo! Did you know that Lucifer has clawed hands, metal hair, a voice sounding like one of the Visitors from V, and spends all his free time terrorizing a random small village in China? Because he does. This movie proves it. And he enjoys tossing children off roofs.