Review: ‘The Legend of Zu’

Second time round the pot, Tsui Hark fails to stir any magic in martial arts fantasy "The Legend of Zu," the much-hyped follow-up to his 1983 "Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain." Onslaught of CGI overwhelms the already small amount of plot and acting onscreen, to overall blah result.

Second time round the pot, Tsui Hark fails to stir any magic in martial arts fantasy “The Legend of Zu,” the much-hyped follow-up to his 1983 “Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain.” Onslaught of CGI overwhelms the already small amount of plot and acting onscreen, to overall blah result. Considering its star power and hype, pic performed poorly on release in Hong Kong in August, taking only HK$12 million ($1.5 million); in Western markets, it could havemileage as a kidvid.

Aside from Sammo Hung as a venerable abbot, and the story’s location — the fabled mountains in Sichuan province, full of monks and magical warriors — “Legend” has almost nothing in common with the first film. Latter gained an exaggerated reputation in the West as it had Tsui’s then-fashionable name attached; back home, it performed poorly.

Whereas the inspiration in “Zu Warriors” was clearly from King Hu and Sammo Hung, in “Legend” it comes directly from manga and the whole CG culture. There’s hardly a shot in the movie that doesn’t have some kind of CGI, and in many the actors are the only natural element in it — leading one to question why Tsui didn’t choose to make the whole picture as a toon; the effect would have been almost identical.

Story centers on the battle by the good guys of Zu — led by charismatic warrior King Sky (Ekin Cheng, coasting), hard-working Red (Louis Koo), chief abbot Whitebrows (Hung) and swordswoman Enigma (Cecilia Cheung, out of her depth) — against the evil phantom Insomnia.

Chinese babe du jour Zhang Ziyi wanders round as a general’s daughter looking to avenge the death of her dad. It’s a totally superfluous, rather small role that Zhang plays with gusto. Taiwanese actress Kelly Lin cameos perkily as a nasty Chinese version of Tinkerbell who (literally) gets inside Red’s head.

The f/x range from gaudy to tacky, which is fine for such pulp. What’s missing is any sense of humor (a strong component of the first movie) and a genuinely heroic arc. In the latter respect, Andrew Lau’s recent excursions into martial arts fantasy (“The Storm Riders,” “The Duel”) beat “Legend” hands down. Even Ricky Ho’s faux-bombastic score sounds tired.

The Legend of Zu

Hong Kong

Production

A China Star Entertainment Group (in H.K.)/Miramax (in U.S.) release of a China Star/One Hundred Years of Film Co. presentation, in association with Distant Horizon, and participation of China Film Co-production Corp. and Youth Film Studio (Beijing), of a Film Workshop Co. production. Produced by Tiffany Chen, Charles Heung. Executive producer, Tsui Hark. Directed by Tsui Hark. Screenplay, Tsui, Li Man-choi.

Crew

Camera (Cinecolor, widescreen), Poon Hang-seng, Herman Yau, William Yin; editor, Marco Mak; music, Ricky Ho; production designer, Cyrus Ho; art director (China), Fu Delin; costume designers, William Fung, Kwan Mei-po, Lee Pik-kwan; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Leung Chung-wai; sound designer, Martin Chappell; action director, Yuen Wo-ping; additional action director, Yuen Bun; martial arts directors, Ku Huen-chiu, Yuen Shun-yi; visual and sound supervisor, Koan Hui; visual effects, Eddie Wong, Menfond Electronic Art & Computer Design Co.; additional visual effects, Cinefex Workshop Co.; visual effects consultant, Joe Bauer; CG directors, Bryan Cheung, Emil Yee; associate producers, To Wan, Wellson Chin. Reviewed on videodisc, London, Sept. 26, 2001. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung, Louis Koo, Patrick Tam, Kelly Lin, Wu Jing, Sammo Hung, Zhang Ziyi, Lau Shun, Wu Gang, Tian Zhuo, Chen Kai, Kang Kai, Tan Jianchang, Zhao Yi, Wu Yue, Yuan Shilong.
(Cantonese dialogue.)
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