A Touch of Zen
Ming dynasty noblewoman Yang must escape from the evil eunuch Hsu. She seeks refuge at a decrepit town where she gets assistance from a naive scholar & a group of mysterious yet powerful monks.
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★★★★★ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
casts nature as mysterious, tangled but carefully deliberate, and casts reformers combating totalitarianism as potential ghosts, the past returning to claim its place, the dead returning to vanquish their living betrayers. Hu famously continues to restore to film from Chinese literature the female knight, another piece of the past that now points forward. and the male hero finds his strength only after he sleeps with her and meets the Abbot; the power here is sexual, literally balls to bones, naturally emanating from within. the villain, corrupt and unseen, is a eunuch; his power is baseless, empty, founded on lies. sex vs death. the film folds themes in so gradually that you truly float down the river without ever seeming to get wet.
★★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd
Someday, some enterprising company is going to restore and rerelease these King Hu movies and then they're going to get a whole lot of my money.
★★★★★ review by Joe on Letterboxd
It's probably a good five minutes before we see any human beings in A Touch of Zen - before that it's the title sequence, then some close-ups of insects in spider's webs, and various shots of water, trees, light, nature at rest. It's like a soft prayer before the story begins, and it's your first clue that this is no typical kung-fu action movie, containing almost none of the genre's usual concessions to audience attention spans. Even when the action does start up, it's pretty removed from the expected Shaw Bros. athleticism, instead punctuated by long stretches of patient waiting in between the jump-cut-aided fight choreography, just outside physical reality as we (think we) know it.
★★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
As dreamy as the rivers in which we seek nourishment and as haunting as the figures which impede the voids which we yearn to observe in the darkness. One of those movies that check every box on the list and even invent a few new categories just for the hell of it.
★★★★★ review by laird on Letterboxd
I spent well over a decade avoiding watching this because a) it only existed on low quality grey market DVDs b) its reputation and runtime were intimidating and c) I assumed it would be more of an arthouse vegetable than a populist wuxia. Finally saw it today theatrically on a restoration DCP, and I'm happy to report that I was (once again) very wrong. It's more Leone than Ozu (though, now that I think about it Leone meets Ozu might be an apt, if not too reductive, descriptor for director King Hu). The setup involving a local no-dad-having loser getting mixed up with some mysterious characters that forever change his destiny is pretty much catnip to me (see also Star Wars, etc), and where I feared would be the kind of quiet scene after quiet scene flow that a boring critic might describe as a "tone poem" were bits of well placed levity, plot intrigue, and beautifully staged action (Well timed cuts and imagination do so much more to make me believe these warriors are leaping and flipping at superhuman lengths than all of the super computer generated 1s and 0s combined). And Sammo Hung!! The artistic flourishes are there, of course, but they're as welcome and subtle as the constantly blowing wind that swirls the ever present mist around the background of just about every shot.
Random thought: I'm dying to know what the Taiwanese saying that was translated as "No money, no honey" in the subtitles is!
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