Legend of Zu (2001)

November 17, 2002 • Film, Reviews

[director Tsui Hark]
Cast: Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi

Almost exactly twenty years after Tsui Hark innaugurated the Hong Kong new wave with Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain, Hark gives us Zu’s first sequel. Of course, most of the original actors have since retired, so Hark taps a whole bunch of pop actors and actresses to do the dirty work for him. The film suffers from an overburgeoning star cast, which forces Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung, Kelly Lin, Louis Koo, Zhang Ziyi, Sammo Hung, and several others into what really amounts to a series of extended cameo appearences. The main character in this film seems to be the Zu mountains themselves, and the impressively rendered digital effects that appear in almost every single shot of the movie. Basically, Hark and his co-conspirators have created a giant fantasy world, replete with strange happenings and exotic weapons—but it’s all for naught.

Legend of Zu is supposed to be a prequel, with Cecilia Cheung and Ekin Cheng taking Brigitte Lin’s and Adam Cheng’s roles in the original film. And Zhang Ziyi has a role sort of similar to Yuen Biao’s in the original. But there are some real problems with this scenario, most importantly: A) Cecilia Cheung’s character dies three or four times in this movie, finally in a way in which she won’t come back, and B) Ekin Cheng’s character has absolutely nothing to do with Adam Cheng’s warrior in the first film.

This movie also suffers the prequel disease that hit Star Wars: Episode One, as well: somehow, everything looks better in the past. It would take centuries of wear and tear and diminishing film stocks to make the Zu mountains in this film look like the Zu mountains in the original. While this in itself is not totally irksome, the fact that everyone’s weapons, magic, and armor is so vastly superior to that of the first movie makes it very unbelievable. In Star Wars: Episode One there are droid armies and vicious robotic guns that the evil Empire would never give up in favor of far more ineffectual, mistake-prone human troops. And in this movie, every character’s weapon results in rather incredible explosions and world-rending violence, whereas the weapons of the original film are much smaller and more precise.

Poor Louis Koo is stuck in a suit of armor so tight that he can’t even change his facial expressions. Ekin Cheng doesn’t seem to understand what he’s supposed to be doing in the film. Zhang Ziyi looks very determined, but she appears so infrequently in the film it’s hard to figure out what her character is so determined to do. Kelly Lin seems to be having the time of her life playing a devilish little fairy (it’s also, sadly, the best performance she’s given so far), but it’s one of the film’s accidental mysteries as to how her character comes to be in the film at all. And so it goes for the whole cast, as they are hampered by a script that eschews character development or coherency in favor of flashy special FX work. Time and Tide was a rather inspired comeback film for furious auteur Tsui Hark, but this film is not exactly his finest hour. Rather, it’s a 90-minute special FX reel, that gets boring too fast. FX technology has advanced a lot since the dawn of the Hong Kong new wave, but this spearhead for digital film technology hasn’t got anything on its’ 20-year-old predecessor.

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