2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The Legend of Zu

The Legend of Zu is a feast for the eyes which is pretty much incomprehensible as a story. Apparently it is based on Chinese legend which makes me wonder what the Chinese make of all this. I believe this legend may predate opium, but clearly not magic mushrooms. Let's see if I get this straight:

King Sky (Ekin Cheng) is the pupil of the beautiful Dawn, and they are the only members of the Kun Lun school. This is millenia ago, and they are pretty much demigods. There is an evil god named Insomnia (that has got to be a mistranslation, but the names here are, let us say, a bit unusual) who is killing off the various schools and capturing spirits to increase his power. He destroys Kun Lun mountain and kills Dawn's body but not her spirit, which is reincarnated two centuries later in the person of Enigma, a disciple of the powerful wizard White Eyebrows who you know is powerful because his eyebrows are several feet long (apparently this is symbolic of wisdom in Chinese mythology). Cecilia Cheung plays both Dawn and Enigma.

By this time Insomnia is after White Eyebrow's school. King Sky, who has a grudge against him teams up with Red who is White Eyebrow's chief student and Enigma's brother. King Sky is not aware at first that Enigma is Dawn's reincarnation.

Enigma is the guardian of the sword of Heaven, and another student, Hollow (Patrick Tam), is the guardian of the sword of Thunder. They attempt to merge (non-pornographically) to create a yin-yang weapon, but Hollow hesitates, and the merger fails, killing Hollow and nearly killing Enigma. In his shock at finding Enigma hurt, King Sky recognizes Enigma as Dawn. Meanwhile, White Eyebrows reincarnates Hollow as a man named Ying.

Insomnia has opened and entered up a source of power called the blood cave, which extends all the way to the roots of the Zu mountains. Red is assigned the task of guarding the mouth of the cave, but is distracted by a pretty red fairy named Amnesia, who possesses his helmet and forces him to do evil. (She is some sort of ally and rival to Insomnia.) Among the side effects is that Red literally turns that color and his helmet turns the size and shape of a sofa cushion. Enigma is captured, and her spirit is embedded in the helmet while her body is separated from it. King Sky and Ying send their spirits into the cave, a risky undertaking because if Insomnia consumes their bodies he can also capture their spirits. King Sky and Ying must fight Red and his demon fairy, and rescue Enigma, so that she and Ying can merge (non-pornographically) their powers to defeat Insomnia.

Spoilers: They do, with the help of King Sky, who has the power of the Moon Orb, but Enigma sacrifices herself to destroy Insomnia. However, King Sky can bring her back like Hollow was brought back, so there will be a happy reunion in a few years when Enigma/Dawn gets her memory back.

Zhang Ziyi is in the movie in a small part, and doesn't really get a chance to make much of an impression.

Got it, I think.

Well, anyway, nobody's going to watch it for the plot but for the special effects, most of which are CGI, and often are very beautiful. Among my favorites are the view of Kun Lun mountain at the beginning, Red's wings, which seem to be made of metal blades, the well of spirits, the cloudscapes, the Moon Orb, some of the flying scenes, Cecilia Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi. The Blood Cave is spectacular and hideous, with skulls embedded in the walls, while the various incarnations of Insomnia are mostly silly, although his real body is okay, sort of like the Dread Dormammu in the Dr. Strange comics, without the flame around the head. (Come to think of it, Dormammu looked pretty silly himself.)

There are nice fight scenes, with plenty of wire fu, lots of perfectly irrelevant special effects that are there to look cool, and armies who don't do much of anything. (Why have an army if you can destroy mountains?) There are eternal love stories, 2000-year-old wizards, flying beads (or poppy seeds, or coffee beans; I couldn't make up their mind) which unite to form a flying skull. This last special effect is one of the silly manifestations of Insomnia.

I guess this can be viewed as a symbolic value of good vs. evil, of how love is eternal (especially if you know your love is going to be reincarnated and will look like Cecilia Cheung), as a statement of faith in the face of adversity (or blood clouds and faces made of coffee beans) or of Chinese philosophy under the influence of mind-altering drugs. On the other hand, it could simply be what happens if you have all the special effects money can buy and no idea of how to write a story.

Directed and cowritten by Hark Tsui, who also cowrote and directed Time and Tide and the animated Chinese Ghost Story, and produced the live-action
Chinese Ghost Story. Why am I not surprised?