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Plot: various factions wage war over the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky

After his New Wave period – encompassing the three features The Butterfly Murders (1979), We’re Going to Eat You (1980), and Dangerous Encounter of the First Kind (1980) – director/producer Tsui Hark started working for Cinema City Company and Golden Harvest, the company founded by Shaw Brothers exile Raymond Chow. Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) - produced by Paragon Films for Golden Harvest - revolutioned the way special effects were used in the fantasy wuxia genre and established Tsui Hark as both a visionary and innovator. In fact the sheer number and complexity of the effects were unprecedented in Hong Kong cinema at the time. Derived from stories of mythology and antiquity and with an all-star cast of established and new talent Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain was nominated 5 times at the 3rd Hong Kong Film Awards (Best Action Choreography - Corey Yuen, Best Actress - Brigitte Lin, Best Art Direction - William Chang, Best Film Editing - Peter Cheung and Best Picture) and set Tsui Hark on course in becoming ‘the Steven Spielberg of Asia’.

Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is probably the single most important movie in the early Tsui Hark canon. It was the transitional title in his evolution from low-budget (and largely commercially unsuccesfull) cinematographer to being the master of big-budget fantasy – and period costume wuxia. For the production of Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain Hark founded Film Workshop and Cinefex and brought in Western special effects artisans to help him create 'the ultimate Chinese mythological spectacular'. Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain was adapted from Lee Sau-Man’s 64 volume novel, “The Legend of the Zu Mountain Warriors,” and manages to squeeze 50 volumes into a nearly two-hour epic. Among the cast are Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Corey Yuen Kwai as well as Brigitte Lin, Moon Lee, and Judy Ongg. Widely regarded as the Hong Kong equivalent to George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) it made a staggering 15 million HK dollars at the box office and set the stage for Tsui Hark to helm even more ambitious projects. Art director William Chang would later become a key collaborator with director Wong Kar-Wai.

Di Ming Qi (Yuen Biao) is a Western Army scout during the Tang Dynasty. He is tired of the near-constant state of war the country is in. Chased from the battlefield for simultaneously obeying and disobeying direct orders from two different generals;. he runs into an equally disillusioned Eastern Army soldier (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) and the two agree on the absurdity of the conflict and the futility of the concept of war. The two bond over the fact that they are indeed neighbors and pretend to be killed in order to escape the chaos and bloodshed. After making their escape from an invading faction Di Ming Qi falls into a crevasse and a thunderstorm forces him to retreat into a nearby cave to seek shelter and relative safety. The cave is part of the Zu mountainrange, in the Bazu region of Western China, a place of great strategic importance in times of war – and home to fabled antediluvian legends and primordial arcane mysteries. Without realizing it Di Ming Qi will soon find himself engaging in an epic battle for survival between the dominating forces of the terrestrial and the ethereal.

In the bowels of Zu, the Magic Mountain Di Ming Qi is beset by supernatural horrors until Ding Yin (Adam Cheng) comes to his rescue. Di Ming Qi vows to become Ding Yin’s pupil in order to pay his lifedebt. The two are attacked by the Blood Devil, a supreme evil manifesting itself as animated red cloths, that has been held at bay for the past century by powerful but aging monk Chang Mei, or Long Brows (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo). The Blood Devil feeds itself with the skulls of young boys and despite Chang Mei’s valiant attempts to contain it, he will only be able to hold off the Blood Devil for 49 more days before he too becomes corrupted by the demon’s malignant powers. They find allies in Xiao Ru (Damien Lau) and Yi Zhen (Mang Hoi), or Wisdom and Innocence as international translations call them, a master and pupil from Kunlun. Chang Mei instructs them to find the Celestial Swords to defeat the ancient hatred. They must seek Lei Yikkei, the current keeper of the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky, who according to legend meditated and practiced in a Tin-Ngoi-Tin cave. The four first face off against the Evil Cult, led by the Devil Disciple (Hark-On Fung), in the Sek-Lam temple. In the skirmish Xiao Ru is injured and the cure can only be found at Yiu-Chi-Sin fortress.

Before arriving at the fortification the group witnesses The Red Witch, a sorceress of unexplained origin. At the Celestial Fortress the fellowship is beset by a legion of female warriors under command of Mu Sang (Lee Choi-Fong, as Moon Lee). Lady Li I-Chi (Ha Kwong-Li) explains that they don’t take kind to the unannounced intrusion. Their pleads for help fall on deaf ears and Lady Li I-Chi exposits that the “immortal ice flame of the fort” signals the arrival of the Countess Of Jade Pond (Brigitte Lin). Ding Yin uses his magic to artificially keep the flame burning forcing the Countess to grant them a visitation. To their dismay the Countess is the same red-clad sorceress they met earlier, and the group understandably attacks her. Di Ming Qi is injured during the altercation and is healed by Ding Yin. The Countess Of Jade Pond reluctantly agrees to heal the wounded Xiao Ru. The process takes its toll on the Countess leading her to faint. Ding Yin hurries to her rescue, embarassing her while at it, but the two come to like each other. Ding Yin hands Di Ming Qi a sword but the latter soon finds out that the sword has been poisoned by the Red Witch. Di Ming Qi realizes that he’s bound to fall victim to the same possession Xiao Ru was just cured of. The Countess wants to help, but is too exhausted from the previous healing session. Ding Yin asks that she kill him, a request that draws her ire and soon the two factions are engaged in a battle that eventually leaves the Celestial Fortress encased in ice. Di Ming Qi, Yi Zhen, and head guard Mu Sang somehow are able to escape the frozen onslaught.

The three continue their journey and eventually run into Tin Dou (Norman Chu Siu-Keung), who international versions refer to as Heaven’s Blade, who has kept the unholy forces of evil at bay for over a century somewhere at the border between heaven and hell. Ding Yin, now completely overtaken by evil, appears but Di Ming Qi courageously battles him with one of his own swords until they are sucked into the lungs of hell. Tin Dou sacrifices himself to allow the duo to escape. Once they have regained their composure they notice two swords – green and purple – overhead and soon they find Lei Yikkei (Judy Ongg, as Weng Qian-Yu) on a nearby peak. Lei Yikkei informs them that time is running out and that they have to be united, in spirit and heart, in order to wield the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky. Lei Yikkei joins the unification existing within the two combined warriors. While all of this is transpiring the Countess Of Jade Pond meets the quarrelling Western and Eastern armies, but their common greater enemy leads them to working together. Once again the demonic Ding Yin appears, but with the last of her sorcery the Countess is able to defeat the monk. Just as the Blood Devil is to be unleashed, the Dual Swords are combined and the ancient hatred is defeated. Now having acquired near god-like powers the youths dedicate themselves to uniting the people of earth.

Brigitte Lin as the Countess Of Jade Pond

Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin came from the Golden Harvest stable and was an experienced veteran from over 100 movies. Lin was a staple in Taiwanese dramas and romance, but towards the late 1970s veered towards historical drama, war, and action productions, before becoming a pillar in period costume wuxia in the eighties and nineties. Lin was a frequent collaborator with director Chu Yin-Ping in her earlier days and Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain marked her reinvention under Tsui Hark. Lin scored her first role of note with the modest The Ghost Of the Mirror (1974), a loose adaption of Pu-Sing Ling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio that Hark himself would adapt a few years later as A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Lin initially found fame with cross-dressing roles in The Dream Of the Red Chamber (1978) and Peking Opera Blues (1986). She was a multiple Taiwan Golden Horse Award nominee but didn’t win one such award until Red Dust (1990). The award led to a second peak in her career with the likes of Dragon Gate Inn (1992) and Swordman II (1992). Lin would be put in a white wig in the fantasy wuxia The Bride with White Hair (1993), in both the original and its sequel as well as in the disastrous and widely derided Louis Cha adaptation Dragon Chronicles – The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain (1994).

Moon Lee as high guard Mu Sang

Before becoming a regular in the Girls with Guns HK action genre Moon Lee scored her first role of note as Mu Sang, high guard of the Countess Of Jade Pond in Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain. In the following years Lee established herself as one of Hong Kong’s most elegant low-budget action stars by appearing in Teresa Woo San’s Girls with Guns archetype Angel (1987) alongside Yukari Oshima and Elaine Liu. For the next 6 years Lee would star in over 25 different action productions, including Princess Madam (1989), Devil Hunters (1989), Mission of Condor (1991), Mission of Justice (1992) and Kickboxer's Tears (1992). By 1993 the Girls with Guns genre was all but spent with budgets dwindling even further and productions relocating to the Philippines, Lee bade the acting profession farewell. Norman Chu was a Shaw Bros veteran who played a variety of roles in offerings as diverse as The Flying Guillotine (1975), The Mighty Peking Man (1977), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Duel to the Death (1983), Sea Wolves (1991). Chu was a regular in Louis Cha adaptations appearing in The Battle Wizard (1977), Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (1982) as well as Dragon Chronicles – The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain (1994).

Judy Ongg as Lei Yikkei during the unification of the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky

Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is a milestone in Hong Kong cinema for all the right reasons. It’s a nearly two-hour, special effects tour de force of wondrously grand proportions that sets a bunch of beautiful young people on a perilous epic quest to defeat an ancient evil. It’s a veritable high point of Hong Kong cinema that shouldn’t be missed by anyone with an interest in cinema, Asian or otherwise. With a cast including Yuen Biao, Adam Cheng, Damian Lau, Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, Brigitte Lin, Moon Lee and Judy Ongg Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is a gathering of current and soon-to-be HK superstars and a young director with talent to spare. No wonder Tsui Hark went on to become one of the most revered Asian directors. Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain brims with energy and is a visual spectacle to behold. Just four years later Hark would force his international breakthrough with the ghost romance A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) with Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong. If anything, Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain very much sets the stage for that.

Plot: novelist Sarah Asproon moonlights as a high-class escort researching a new book

Ten years after after Eva Nera (1977) Italian exploitation guru Aristide Massaccesi (under his English nom de plume Joe D'Amato) started a new soft erotica franchise with a bright young star in the form of Eleven Days, Eleven Nights. Bankrolled to capitalize on the success of Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) and on the willingness of actress Luciana Ottaviani (under her Anglicized alias Jessica Moore) to shed fabric it sees the symbolic passing of the torch from D’Amato’s beloved softcore star of the previous decade Laura Gemser to Moore. While not her screen debut with D’Amato Eleven Days, Eleven Nights was the franchise she is most identified with. In 1988 a pseudo-sequel followed in the wake of the original’s box office success with Top Model (1988) (alternatively released in some territories as Eleven Days, Eleven Nights: the Sequel for maximum confusion). In 1990 followed an official sequel with Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2 with Kristine Rose taking over as lead.

Front and center is Luciana Ottaviani, who was a dancer, glamour model, and showgirl before turning to acting. At age 19 Ottaviani was offered a role in Convent Of Sinners (1986), a production where she initially was contracted to work as an assistant. The production proved lucrative and Ottaviani was given her own vehicle with Eleven Days, Eleven Nights. Working the trenches almost exclusively with Joe D’Amato, and Mario Bianchi, Ottaviani starred in a dozen of movies in the three-year period from 1986 to 1989. During the death throes and eventual collapse of the Italian horror industry she worked with Lucio Fulci on Sodoma’s Ghost (1988) and the Fulci produced giallo Blood Moon (1989). Taking a cue from the greatest exploitation muses, Luciana Ottaviani never appeared under her own name. Early on Ottaviani used the Gilda Germano alias before rechristening herself to the more American sounding Jessica Moore once given her own production. Luciana Ottaviani’s English alias in turn has led to some understandable confusion as she shares it with an Hungarian adult actress, and an Australian tennisplayer. In 1989 Ottaviani moved out of the cinema industry as family life took precedence.

Aristide Massaccesi was a cinematographer by trade, and the typical workhorse exploitation director that dabbled in every genre in need of exploiting. It wasn’t until 1979 that he adopted the Joe D’Amato alias under which he directed a swath of soft erotic features with Laura Gemser. Gemser was the star of Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle (1975), but it was D’Amato who made the franchise profitable. All through the 1980s and 90s D’Amato directed over 100 erotic features, both of t he soft- and hardcore variety, for the Italian video market. During the decade he directed everything from the Greek horror feature Anthropophagus (1980), the Conan the Barbarian (1982) knockoff Ator the Invincible (1982) and its sequel Ator, the Blade Master (1984) with Miles O’Keeffe to the post-apocalyptic actioner Endgame (1983). From the looks of it D’Amato’s 1980s softcore features apparently came as a response to the success of Italian master of erotica Tinto Brass. Where Brass is a craftsman and technician with an obsession with richly formed posteriors, smut peddlers Massaccesi, and Jesús Franco, were far less dignified and ogled any and every starlet willing to get naked for them. Moore is easy on the eyes and it's easy to see why D'Amato insisted on getting her her own franchise. Moore might not be much of an actress, but she certainly looks absolutely amazing au naturel.

In New Orleans Sarah Asproon (Luciana Ottaviani, as Jessica Moore) is an enterprising young writer moonlights as a high-class escort to collect material for her new book. Asproon is a bisexual, nymphomaniacal, nude top model/exotic dancer moonlighting as a journalist, or the other way around. It’s the sort of character that could’ve only sprung from the diseased mind of old Joe. On board of a ferry Asproon flashes dopey young construction designer Michael Terenzi (Joshua McDonald) who can’t resist the comely charms of the alluring vamp, and their initial meeting is the start of a brief albeit passionate affair. Terenzi is scheduled to be married to the demure Helen (Mary Sellers). In the following Eleven Days, Eleven Nights Terenzi engages in a steaming affair with sizzling Sarah, who initiates him to exciting sexual pleasures. Mentoring Asproon is publicist Dorothy Tipton (Laura Gemser). It’s a symbolic passing of the torch from one D’Amato softcore starlet to the next. Helen, naturally, starts to feel neglected, and some friction develops when Asproon is forced to reveal that she is merely using Terenzi as a way of completing her new novel “My 100 Men”, a scathing exposé chronicling her sexual conquests. Hearts break, tears roll, and Sarah Asproon returns to her life of prostitution.

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights was written by the husband-and-wife team of Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi which, if this was a horror production, should have anyone sane running for cover. The movie claims to be based upon a novel by one Sarah Asproon, but the name is merely one of many aliases used by Rossella Drudi to give the production a veneer of respectability. It wasn’t the first time D’Amato used such tactic as The Alcove (1985) made similar bogus claims as to its source material. Surprising of both D’Amato and the rightly reviled Drudi-Fragasso axis Eleven Days, Eleven Nights is at times very romantic and there’s a genuine sweet undercurrent to its playful softcore shenanigans. Top Model, its pseudo-sequel, would play up the romantic angle to an even greater degree. In both movies there’s more than enough Luciana Ottaviani in the buff to satisfy anybody’s cravings.

As the Italian exploitation industry started to decline in the 1980s and eventually withered towards the end of the decade D’Amato worked as a director of soft- and hardcore erotica. It’s telling that D’Amato’s repertoire of softcore erotica is frequently and consistently better produced with more attention to shot composition than his horror movies of the period tend to be. Replacing much of the bleakness and nihilism that pervaded his movies with Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle and otherwise, Eleven Days, Eleven Nights is the Eva Nera (1977) of the eighties. Providing two electro pop songs to the soundtrack is domestic Eurobeat mainstay Leonie Gane. Her two contributions border on the annoying with its cauterwauling vocalizations and sub-Marcello Giombini beat. The majority of the score was composed by Piero Montanari, a well-regarded Italian bassist and musician that contributed to recordings from many artists including Don Backy.

It never sinks to the backwardness of D’Amato’s own period potboiler The Alcove (1985) although that one did have the late Lilli Carati and it never bothers itself with the human drama that comprised much of Mario Bianchi’s Reflections Of Light (1988). Joe D’Amato might not have been a good director, but he at least knew how to put a scene together. Likewise is Luciana Ottaviani's inability to act countered by her looking rather splendid in lingerie (or less). There isn’t much in the way of a plot worth remembering, and whenever Moore takes her clothes off she’s shot with the kind of attention to detail you wish old Joe used in his other more remembered and memorable movies, but somehow never did. It’s a late-night erotic TV movie helmed by a director famous for his horror and gore oeuvre. It’s nothing more than 90 minutes of the camera ogling over the finer points of Luciana Ottaviani’s anatomy. It’s perfunctory in exactly the ways movies like this ought to be. It’s soft erotic trash with a veneer of minimal story. Eleven Days, Eleven Nights makes no qualms about what it is, and that honesty is refreshing to say the least.