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Plot: cops travel back in time to stop top criminal in the past

Nobody had a greater gift for anticipating what audiences might want than Hong Kong exploitation mogul Jing Wong. Seeing the worldwide success of Nintendo arcade beat-em-up Street Fighter II: the World Warrior (1991) Wong set to adapt the property for the big screen. In the resultant bidding war the rights went to Jackie Chan. Chan put these newly acquired copyrights to good use in his City Hunter (1993). There he, and not Joey Wong or Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching as you'd reasonably expect/hope, ended up in Chun-Li's signature blue qipao. Undeterred by not obtaining the necessary licensing he quickly rewrote the screenplay for his Street Fighter II: the World Warrior adaptation as pre-production was already under way. Thus came to be Future Cops, an action-comedy where pretty much nothing makes sense and where juvenile humor is the order of the day. If you thought the American Street Fighter (1994) was terrible, pray to the god of your choosing that Jing Wong never got his way. At least Chingmy Yau, Charlie Yeung and Winnie Lau brighten up this barely coherent romp.

In the far-flung future of 2043 criminal mastermind The General (Ken Lo Wai-Kwong) is incarcerated in a high-tech prison. His cronies, The Future Rascals, Thai King (Billy Chow Bei-Lei), Toyota (William Duen Wai-Lun) and Kent (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) have created a time machine to travel to 1993. There they will kill Yu Ti Hung, the judge that imprisoned The General in their own time. The Future Rascals are assailed by the Future Cops, a team of law enforcement officers comprising of Ti Man (Andy Lau Tak-Wah), Broom Man (Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau), Sing (Simon Yam Tat-Wah) and Lung (Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing). The Future Rascals manage to transport themselves to 1993 and the Future Cops are ordered by their department’s highest-ranking commander (Newton Lai Hon-Chi) to apprehend, arrest and detain the fugitive felons no matter what the cost. The General is too much of a high-priority target to be allowed to run amok. Thus the Future Cops are given permission to travel all the way back to 1993 when The General was nothing but a dopey high school student.

Tai Chun (Dicky Cheung Wai-Kin) is your average 24 year-old student at St. Yuk Keung high school in Hong Kong. He’s relentlessly mocked by bully Yu Kei-On (Andy Hui Chi-On) and his gang of misfits. At home he is constantly berated by his popular high school sister Chun May (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching), their high-strung mother Mrs. Chun (Kingdom Yuen King-Tan) and her beau (Richard Ng Yiu-Hon). About the only thing that keeps poor Tai Chun alive is his unrequited love for Choy Nei (Charlie Yeung Choi-Nei), a crush he has been harboring for probably far too long. Tai Chun’s world is thrown upside down when the Future Cops land on his roof. After a bit of back-and-forth he agrees to help them find The General – but only if the Future Cops offer him protection and help him improve his reputation and standing in school while they’re there anyway.

Thus each member of the Future Cops goes undercover at Chun’s high school. Broom Man infiltrates by pretending to be a teacher. He breaks into song in the middle of class and makes a pass on student Siu Wai (Winnie Lau Siu-Wai). Ti Man pretends to be a student and quickly catches the eye of Tai Chun’s sister Chun May. Sing agrees to be Tai Chun’s loyal servant if only to protect him from the gang of bullies. Hilarity ensues when Siu Wai, the girlfriend of Kei On, falls head over heels in love with Tai Chun. While all of this is going on, this leaves the Future Cops with one problem: who is The General and how will they find him? An 11th hour plot twist not only reveals his identity, but pits the Future Cops in a fierce battle against the Future Rascals in a conclusion so in(s)ane it defies mere description.

Future Cops is the kind of movie that could only be made in Hong Kong by Jing Wong and still secure a theatrical release. Words cannot properly convey how utterly deranged and out-there Future Cops truly is. Granted, you’ll have to endure an hour’s worth of puerile situational comedy, unfunny puns/quips and kitschy gags straight out of The Inspector Wears Skirts and the main plot is liberally scribbled from Gordon Chan’s Fight Back to School (1991). Future Cops is bookended by two fairly impressive fightscene setpieces, but they are seperated by an hour’s worth of plot. On the other hand where are you going to see Winnie Lau, Charlie Yeung, Kingdom Yuen King-Tan, and Chingmy Yau together in the same movie? Where else are you going to see Chingmy Yau dressed up as Luigi Mario from Super Mario Bros and a grown-up Fanny Leung Maan-Yee from Infra-Man (1975) as one of the student body at St. Yuk Keung? In the end Tai Chung gains superpowers and transforms into Goku from Dragon Ball Z. It makes Wellson Chin Sing-Wai’s Super Lady Cop (1992) with Cynthia Khan look positively sane and measured in comparison. Il faut le faire...

The only reason that Future Cops has garnered any kind of longevity is thanks to its inherent insanity. The finer details of the plot make no sense and the Future Rascals only dress up as Street Fighter II: the World Warrior (1991) characters because the costumes were already made when production began. Chingmy Yau was no Brigitte Lin and certainly no Gong Li but as a reliable second-stringer the sheer variety of roles that she played over the years are testament to her versatility as an actress. Yau appeared in everything from gambling movies and romantic dramas to dopey comedies and about anything in between. She was in everything from Casino Tycoon (1992) and God of Gamblers Return (1994), and fantasy wuxia send-ups Legend of the Liquid Sword (1993) and Kung Fu Cult Master (1993) to laugh-a-minute action romps as Naked Killer (1992), City Hunter (1993) and High Risk (1995). Future Cops winks, nods and liberally borrows from everything from Back to the Future 2 (1989), and Ghost (1990), to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Demolition Man (1993). The screenplay barely makes sense and Wong has no interest in pursuing any of its better ideas. Future Cops plows mercilessly forward; logic and coherence be damned. Not all the jokes are funny, and they seem to miss the mark more often than they don't. In one of the funnier scenes Chingmy Yau can be seen shaking her petite derrière. No wonder Wong loved her...

To say that Future Cops is acquired taste is understating just how insane it occasionally gets. It often feels as three different movies choppily edited together in only a way Hong Kong would attempt. The tonal shifts are sudden and frequently jarring making the quirkier indulgences of comedy specialist Wellson Chin Sing-Wai’s Super Lady Cop (1992) look measured in comparison. Future Cops begins as a scifi-action movie before turning into a high school comedy (complete with slapstick humor and cartoony sound effects) in between segments of hastily edited in down-market chopsocky action. The situational – and slapstick comedy is hopelessly puerile (as you would expect of Wong) and that Future Cops depends so much on it is to its everlasting detriment. The Magic Crystal (1986) also mixed genres, but was far more elegant in doing so. The screenplay is a barely coherent mess that cannot even be redeemed by the electrifying presence of Wong babes Chingmy Yau, Winnie Lau, and Charlie Yeung. Future Cops is both disparate and desperate to make something, anything, of what in a better world should have been an official Street Fighter adaptation. Future Cops is a lot of things, but it clearly wasn't Jing Wong's finest moment.

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.