Touch of Zen, A (1971) Review

"A Touch of Zen" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"A Touch of Zen" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: King Hu
Writer: King Hu
Cast: Hsu Feng, Shih Chun, Pai Ying, Tin Peng, Roy Chiao Hung, Sit Hon, Cho Kin, Go Ming, Miu Tin, Melvin Cheung Wan Man, Liu Chu
Running Time: 180 min.

By JJ Hatfield

A Touch of Zen (Xia nu) is an amazing film. Generally overlooked as just another “chop socky” movie most of the western world has never seen this piece of perfection and that’s a shame. Hopefully after reading this review you will be motivated to watch this film of great importance to the world of cinema.

Do not expect a wild kung fu spree, training, revenge, the usual plot, for this film is very unusual. Though there is most impressive fighting the story builds quite awhile before the first blow is struck. There is no denying this is a very complex plot with layers upon layers and sometimes you see a character who is really who they seem to be. Or are they?

The film is really three different possibilities or realities based upon the same characters. However how those characters interact and inter – relate changes. This film was made before those involved were looking at how foreign box offices would respond. This is a Chinese film.

I’m not going to delve into the character development or even the story. Watch the film and you will understand.

King Hu directed and co wrote (Songling Pu is credited with the story) this fantastic film. Xia nu, the film’s original title is a masterpiece in every way! This film is definitely required for anyone who enjoys foreign, period piece experiences. I take that back. Everyone who has enjoyed movies of any kind should see this fabulous film! It takes time to develop but it is never boring. For a film with a run time of over three hours it is intensely mesmerizing. There are damn few movies that can hold the viewers attention and entertain at the same time. Xia nu does not fail.

Everything has been carefully staged to put you into the film. The cinematography is gorgeous with nature scenes that seem possible only in a different world. So much care has been paid to details the story is very much relevant symbolically and in a whispered way it could he considered to compare with human life, with life itself.

The beautiful backdrops of some of the most gorgeous spots in the country are breathtaking! The use of light and shadow is far beyond what most movies accomplish today! Sunshine is fairly easy to film and often gorgeous but there are other visuals that will pleasingly startle and surprise.

I have a great deal of respect for King Hu and everyone associated with this film!

One reason the film is never boring is because it has many different emotions in focus. There are light hearted times with easy smiles, amusing little scenes, moments of stillness that defies written description. The characters are very real, in every context with human issues and feelings both with love and loyalty, treason and hate.

But what of the martials arts? Ahhh, do not worry. The “action” builds slowly at first, then more and more martial artists are involved until you are watching one of the finest martial arts films made. I do not exagerate. The fighters sometimes do look more like “artists” but that doesn’t hinder their ability to satisfy any martial arts fan. The sheer number increasingly involved is genius! It gives you the time to actually enjoy this feast! The action is real, no super slo-mo, or long blurry generic battle scenes. They didn’t need to add crappy effects because the movie itself is made the way it was meant to be. The fights were filmed exactly as they needed to be allowing the viewer to see some of the “art” in the martial arts. This is not swingy armed fake crap. It is all exciting and many times turns deadly.

For those who wish to take the time to explore this film there is a very spiritual angle involved. Not only does this film present phenomenal story, development and excellent action it also leaves the viewer with something to think about.

Whatever your motivation find this film and buy it if you can because you will be watching this magnificent film time and time again!

* This review is from two old VHS tapes with a running time clocked at 3 hours. All of the tapes were used. There is a newer remaster? but I don’t know how the films compare time wise.

* If you are hunting down Jack Chan or Sammo Hung you won’t see them. They are both credited as stuntmen, but were only in their late teens when this was shot.

This is a fabulous fantastic film you don’t want to miss!

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 9.5/10

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About JJ Hatfield

i like movies
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