Occasionally juxtaposed to "Star Wars" (1977) these kindred spirits of camp art share not only thematic elements, some of the same technical wizards, and a shared nostalgia between contemporary critics and audiences alike but also some of the same weaknesses.
Co-written by Szeto Cheuk-hon, who collaborated on screenplays for three of director Tsui Hark's previous films, "Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain" is likable based on the strength of its merits in sight and sound, but storytelling isn't one of the film's virtues. Like "Star Wars" this flying swordsman fantasy rarely ever stops to the point it's difficult to recall a moment where the narrative succeeds in pacifying Tsui's funhouse approach to filmmaking.
This is no more evident than when the aforementioned warriors from the magic mountain arrive at a cryptic queen's fortress in the clouds and spend the next twelve minutes soaring through the air jousting with rays of energy from their palms in an attempt to appeal to the speechless ruler for her help. Once you look past all the smoke and mirrors its obvious why this sequence was tailored in this fashion: "Zu" would have viewed a grounded dialogue-driven exchange as some kind of
cardinal sin for this brand of ADHD storytelling even though this is what the film really needs -- breaks.
The atmosphere created by Tsui's marvelously colorful vision and recreated through Bill Wong's moody photography is accompanied by Gwan Sing-yau and Tang Siu-lam's pragmatic score and accented by the tutelage of conscripted Western technicians whose collective resume includes not only the special effects for George Lucas's 1977 science-fiction phenomenon (supposedly Tsui's original inspiration) but "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," "Tron," "Battlestar Galactica," and "Bladerunner" as well. Though Tsui was given an unprecedented HK $30 million budget by Golden Harvest Studios to turn his dream into a reality the special effects -- presumably where the lion's share of the money went -- have a cost-cutting charm that still has yet to wear off.