The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 77 – Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain

This week on the Silver Emulsion Podcast, Stephen and I return to the fertile territory of the wuxia genre with Tsui Hark’s fantasy extravaganza Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain! Listen and enjoy! 🙂

Also: the show is now on iTunes! So if you feel like subscribing there, or rating/reviewing the show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Music Notes

Intro:

  • Jingo – Fever

Outro:

  • Kazunaka Yamane – Setting Off (A New Battle)
    • From the NES version of Double Dragon (VGMPF)
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela – Hanuman

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using.

The Web of Death (1976)

The Web of Death [五毒天羅] (1976)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Wang Hsieh, Angela Yu Chien, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Miu, Ku Feng, Kong Yeung, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Chan Shen, Chan Mei-Hua

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Excited to see another Chor Yuen movie.


Chor Yuen re-defined the wuxia film genre with Killer Clans and The Magic Blade, but The Web of Death is more of a step in a different direction. Elements introduced in the previous films (like the focus on survival and the true danger of the martial world) are still present and relevant in The Web of Death, but they are no longer the primary focus. In The Web of Death, Chor Yuen goes full-on fantasy, delivering a tale of magical powers and deadly clan rivalries that could only come out of ’70s Hong Kong. If the previous films were about avoiding subtle tricks like a poisoned drink, The Web of Death is about more overt threats such as a trapdoor that opens into an acid bath. This move towards fantasy is significant, though, as Shaw’s prior wuxia films always contained elements of fantasy but were never all-out extravaganzas. In this way, The Web of Death is like a bridge between the early days of trap-laden, studio-bound wuxias and the fantasy heights the genre attained in the ’80s and ’90s. As a huge fan of those later offerings, I can’t help but love The Web of Death just a little bit more for pushing the genre in that direction.

The Five Venoms Clan is in possession of the most fearsome weapon in the martial world: the Five Venoms Spider. It may look like nothing more than a smoking lantern adorned with a red spider handle on its top, but it’s actually a cage for the fearsome spider within. This spider is capable of incredible things, including deadly lasers and a poisonous mist. Nothing is known that can defeat the power of the spider, or even defend against it. If your opponent wields the spider it’s basically time to say your goodbyes, if you only had the time. The spider is so deadly that even the Five Venom Clan itself is scared of it. They lock it away in an unknown location, and there it stays until a few members of the clan want to take control of the martial world at an upcoming tournament with it. The mere idea that the spider may re-emerge in the martial world sends shock waves through the clans. Fei Ying Xiang (Yueh Hua) of Wudang — or Wu-Tang if you’d prefer — and his brother Fei Ying-Jie (Wong Chung) are dispatched by their master to learn of the spider’s whereabouts and stop its use. The brothers split up to search separately, and the twisting, dense adventure begins.

Continue reading The Web of Death (1976) →

Magic in the Mirror (1996)

Starring Jamie Renée Smith, Kevin Wixted, Saxon Trainor, David Brooks, Godfrey James, Eileen T’Kaye, Eugen Cristian Motriuc, Ion Haiduc, Ileana Sandulescu, Daniela Marzavan, Mihai Niculescu

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


B-Movies are always subjectively entertaining, so when I say that I found Magic in the Mirror to be one of the best Moonbeam films, I do so knowing full well that there will be others who absolutely can’t stand it. This usually should go without saying for any review, but with this movie I feel it bears repeating. One real key to my enjoyment of this movie (and not immediate & complete rejection) is that I love Howard the Duck. Yes, the movie. So the mere idea that Full Moon made a movie with a race of giant ducks was enough to put a smile on my face. The ducks of Magic in the Mirror are definitely not as well-realized as Howard in his film, but I found their limitations to be part of the charm (especially the flying). Anyway, I just wanted to get this out of the way right at the beginning, because I think this is great little fantasy adventure for kids, but I think the ducks will turn a lot of people off.

Mary Margaret Dennis (Jamie Renée Smith) is the daughter of two considerable, scientific talents. Her father works in the field of botany, following in the footsteps of his grandmother. He’s a little lacking in common sense, but his heart is in the right place. Mary Margaret’s mother (Saxon Trainor) is a physicist who is on the brink of finalizing a laser gun that shoots a hole into an alternate dimension. I’m sure there’s a more scientific way to describe it, but I’m not a physicist so that’s all I got. 🙂 Anyway, these are very engrossing jobs for parents to have, and as a result they aren’t as attentive as they should be with Mary Margaret. So when her great-grandmother’s mirror is bestowed on Mary Margaret, of course her ambitious idle hands will find a way to use it as a portal into another world.

Continue reading Magic in the Mirror (1996) →

Spellbreaker: Secret of the Leprechauns (1996)

AKA Leapin’ Leprechauns! 2

Starring Gregory Smith, Madeleine Potter, Godfrey James, John Bluthal, Tina Martin, James Ellis, Sylvester McCoy, Ion Haiduc, Mike Higgins

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Moderate. I liked the first one.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Spellbreaker: Secret of the Leprechauns is a great, intriguing title, but to be honest it’s not the most fitting one for the film that bears it. There is some spell breaking to be had, but I can’t remember any great secret of the leprechauns that comes to light. Anyway, this shouldn’t get in the way of the fun, and who knows, maybe in the course of writing this review, I’ll somehow unlock the film and discover the secret of the leprechauns. 🙂

This film picks up a short time after the original. Michael Dennehy (John Bluthal) has returned to his home on Fairy Hill, where he lives in harmony with the leprechauns and the fairy folk. His grandson, Mikey Dennehy (Gregory Smith), is staying with Gramps (no sign of the other family members) and enjoying his time there. One day while fishing, a woman rides up on a horse and sparks a conversation. She introduces herself as Morgan (Madeleine Potter), explaining that she’s staying at a nearby castle. Michael thought the place was uninhabitable and haunted, but apparently it’s been recently cleaned up! Morgan does need a spot of help, though, so Michael volunteers Mikey to help the nice woman.

Continue reading Spellbreaker: Secret of the Leprechauns (1996) →

The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Starring Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Liu Yi-Fei, Li Bing-Bing, Ye Xiao-Keng, Wang De-Shun, Morgan Benoit

Directed by Rob Minkoff

Expectations: Curious. I don’t remember it being very good.


The Forbidden Kingdom is far from great, but it is worthy of respect and attention. It is an American-produced fantasy wuxia, and I’m having a hard time thinking of any other film that fits that bill. For that alone it is interesting, but it’s also the first (and so far only) film that stars both Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Martial arts fans will no doubt want to see that, especially since the film contains a great fight between the two Hong Kong legends. Jet Li even plays the Monkey King during the film’s intro and finale! There’s so much I enjoy about this movie, but no matter how much I want to love this film for what it is, its missteps are hard to overlook.

The major problem is that while it features Jackie and Jet, neither of them are the lead. That honor goes to Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), an American teenager obsessed with Hong Kong movies. His room is adorned with posters of Shaw Brothers films and Bruce Lee, The Monkey Goes West plays on his TV, and he even has a Sega Dreamcast. It’s almost like the character was based on my own teenage years! I wouldn’t ask the shopkeeper for an “early Shaw Brothers movie featuring a guy doing leopard style,” though. I’ve also never said, “Sick! Ten Tigers of Kwantung,” although if I did find a copy of the Shaw classic in a secondhand store, I would say something like “Oh shit! Ten Tigers of Kwantung!” so perhaps they weren’t too far off the mark. 🙂

Continue reading The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) →

The Myth (2005)

The Myth [神話] (2005)
AKA Jackie Chan’s The Myth

Starring Jackie Chan, Kim Hee-Sun, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Yu Rong-Guang, Sun Zhou, Maggie Lau Sze-Wai, Mallika Sherawat, Ken Lo, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Shao Bing, Ken Wong Hop-Hey, Jin Song, Yuen Tak, Hayama Hiro, Chan Sek, Park Hyun-Jin, Yao Wei-Xing, Choi Min-Soo, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Sudanshu Pandde

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.


One day in 2005 or 2006, I happened upon a Chinese DVD (without English subs) of The Myth in my library. Based on the cover art, I assumed that The Myth was a straight historical drama. Intrigued, I took it home to see if it had any fights. I scanned through the film quickly, didn’t see any, and then wrote the movie off until now. Imagine my surprise when I actually sat down to watch the film and I discovered that there is a wealth of action contained within it! And it’s really fun, entertaining, Jackie-style Jackie Chan action! Whoa!

The Myth begins during the Qin Dynasty, as General Meng Yi (Jackie Chan) receives a Korean princess, Ok-Soo (Kim Hee-Sun), who is to marry the ailing Qin emperor. During the handover, a Korean warrior attempts to kidnap Ok-Soo, but Meng Yi ain’t havin’ none of that. They clash in epic fashion, but Meng and OK-Soo become separated from the troops when they fall into a river fall below. As they hit the water, we are whisked to the future, as the respected archaeologist Jack Chan (Jackie Chan) awakes from a dream. This isn’t his first dream of the princess and a Qin Dynasty version of himself, and this troubles him greatly. As luck would have it, his next assignment — helping his friend William (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) uncover the secret of a levitating mystic in India — will shed a lot of light on these dreams. Who woulda thought it? It’s like a movie or something!

Continue reading The Myth (2005) →

The Golden Lion (1975)

The Golden Lion [金毛獅王] (1975)

Starring Chiu Hung, Li Ching, James Nam Gung-Fan, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Lee Man-Chow, Pang Pang, Chan Shen, Wong Ching-Ho, Law Hon, Chai No, Goo Chim-Hung

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Low.


In the United States, when we hear that a movie has been held unreleased for any extended length of time — in this case, four years — the natural assumption is that irreparable artistic or financial issues exist with the movie preventing its release. Some of these concerns might carry over to the 1970s Hong Kong industry, but with the Shaw Brothers studio I feel like their continuous production methods led to lower priority films being abandoned, regardless of any fault in the film itself. The changing landscape of the Hong Kong industry from wuxia to hand-to-hand kung fu is the most likely culprit, causing the once flourishing wuxia genre on to the back burner for both studios and audiences.

Looking into the box office records of Ho Meng-Hua’s previous films also sheds some light on the issue. Neither of his two 1971-released wuxias, The Lady Hermit and The Long Chase, did very well, with The Lady Hermit specifically underperforming at 75th place out of 83 films released that year. Ambush was filmed in 1971 like The Golden Lion, and when it eventually released in 1973 it also did poorly, ranking 77th out of 87 films. Both Ambush and The Golden Lion star Chiu Hung & Li Ching, and while Li Ching was a great part of many Chang Cheh films, neither Li or Chiu were big enough stars to carry films on their own. In 1975, The Golden Lion also performed poorly, coming in at 84th of 92 films. Ouch. Poor wuxia. 🙁 Thanks to Celestial Pictures and the passage of time, though, we are allowed to find the hidden gems that failed to resonate in their day. The Golden Lion is one such film… in fact, I’d say it’s one of Ho Meng-Hua’s best and most satisfying wuxias.
Continue reading The Golden Lion (1975) →

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