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Movie of the Day for Thursday, April 28, 2005
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Zu Warriors is a Zhang Ziyi kung-fu movie. For those of you who loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that will probably be reason enough to put this one on your radar. For the people who merely liked that battle epic, this one is a much trickier sell. Most people who have seen the trailer are surprised by the look of it, because Zu Warriors is a special effects-laden project. This is unusual for Hong Kong cinema to the point that most of the notice the movie has received to date has been focused upon the overwhelming visuals created by director Hark Tsui. Zu Warriors is a remake of Tsui's 1983 classic Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, but where he had a miniscule budget back then, he has now been given tons of money to spend as he pleases. The result is eye candy of epic proportions.
As often happens in F/X-intensive productions, the story of Zu Warriors is a bit more difficult to follow. In fact, having seen the film several times, I can assure you that I still have no clue what is going for a good 85% of the movie, and that's not hyperbole.
But it's so pretty.
Zu Warriors is not unlike an anime picture that has turned into a live action production. That's probably the best way to describe to North American audiences the need they will have to just go with the flow of shiny things and loud noises as they are faced with the characters in the world of Zu. I won't go into great detail about these characters since the sweeping generalities are odd enough. There's a gorgeous goddess named at different times Enigma and Dawn who has a thing for weapons orbiting around her. She tutors Sky King, a man destined for greatness who has a tendency to randomly take flight. He teams with Red, a winged warrior who may or may not be perverted to the dark side as events progress. They work to save the glory of the great god who I can only describe as what I expect ZZ Top to look like when they're 80. Or are they already 80? Their evil opponents are puffy clouds. Yes, puffy clouds. As you can see, Zu Warriors is not unlike a Pink Floyd album come to life.
Sky King is played by Ekin Cheng, who was last seen on American shores in Tokyo Raiders. This movie also co-starred Cecilia Cheung, who portrays Dawn/Enigma in Zu Warriors. Cheung is a wonderful talent who may also be seen in Shaolin Soccer (aka Kung Fu Soccer). Tragically, this master stuntwoman suffered horrific injuries recently while setting up a stunt at a charity event and is now suffering from partial paralysis. As for Zhang Ziyi, her character is Joy, a peasant who becomes embroiled in the war between the gods of good and evil. I want to be emphatic on this point, though: Joy is a bit player in the film whose presence comprises ten minutes or less of screen time, so only the most diehard of Ziyi fans should see the film for her alone.
Still, kung-fu movie fans do have reasons to see Zu Warriors other than the wondrous special effects. The fight sequences are directed by Tsui's frequent partner, Yuen Woo Ping, the man whom American audiences know as the genius behind The Matrix. He is given free rein here to create unusual and spectacular combat sequences. Between his choreography and the dizzying special effects, Zu Warriors offers the most unique presentation for North American audiences since The Brotherhood of the Wolf, so if you like different, this is a can't-miss production. (David Mumpower/BOP)