by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Ekin Cheng as KING SKY
Cecilia Cheung as DAWN/ENIGMA
Louis Koo as RED
Patrick Tam as THUNDER
Kelly Lin as AMNESIA
Sammo Hung Kam-Bo as WHITE EYEBROWS
Ziyi Zhang as JOY
Directed by: Tsui Hark
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The journey that “Zu Warriors” faced on its way to DVD is a sad one. It was originally snatched up by indie powerhouse Miramax in the wake of the success of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” However, for whatever reason plagues movie studios, it was never released theatrically.
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Along with “Zu Warriors,” two other films were picked up by Miramax: “Shaolin Soccer” and “Hero.” “Shaolin Soccer” spent years in limbo and eventually was released in a very limited run. On video, it showed some life, but it could have had a decent impact into the cineplexes if it were given the same attention that director Stephen Chow’s follow-up “Kung Fu Hustle” was.
Miramax wised up with “Hero” and released it in the theatres to a huge success. It’s too bad that “Zu Warriors” wasn’t so fortunate. It sat on the shelf for half a decade and is now seeing a release on DVD.
The saddest thing about this turn of events is that “Zu Warriors” screams to be seen on the big screen. The film takes place in a fantasy world where god-like warriors live among the clouds in the Zu Mountain range. These warriors are protecting their home from an attack by a demon. The immortal warriors face death, reincarnation, tragedy and betrayal in this high-flying mix of action and fantasy.
“Zu Warriors” is actually a remake of a groundbreaking 1983 film. Using an onslaught of special effects on a very limited budget, the original film is a classic to martial arts fans. This new version uses a large number of effects, but they’re not really groundbreaking work. In fact, the digital effects are pretty low-rent. I’m sure that’s because we’re spoiled here in the states, where most major studio releases usually boast some great digital work.
However, the effects are not the reason to see “Zu Warriors.” Sure, the scenery is epic, and the film does have scope, but the power behind the movie comes from its soul, not its flash. The movie taps into the honor and heroism of the warrior. It’s a thrilling piece of fantasy with plenty of action.
The DVD comes with two versions of the film. The main version is the English language release, which runs only 80 minutes. The original Cantonese version, with English subtitles, is also available. This original version is 24 minutes longer. However, because the film is somewhat lean on plot, this extra 24 minutes does tend to drag a bit. (Plus, if you’re like most of us lazy U.S. viewers, you don’t want to watch 104 minutes of subtitles.)
Additionally on the DVD is “The Making of Zu Warriors,” which is presented in the original Chinese language with English subtitles.
I can’t speak for die-hard fans of Asian cinema, but for a relatively white-bread moviegoer, this is a fun piece. It reminds me of the fantasy films of the mid-1980s, only with more believable special effects. It’s no “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or “Hero” (although it’s yet another Chinese import featuring Ziyi Zhang), but it has one thing these don’t – it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Spanish language track. English and Spanish language subtitles.