A Touch of Zen (1971) Poster

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Not just a kung-fu masterpiece, one of the last century's great cinema triumphs
gray416 September 2004
I just never expected anything like the experience of watching "A Touch of Zen". I settled down to watch a quaint old film from 1960s' world cinema. Three hours later I was exhilarated after stumbling across of the greatest films made in the 20th century - and it wasn't a moment too long.

The film is carefully structured, in three contrasting sections. It is only when you look back that you realize just how cleverly King Hu has created those three sections. The same characters, for the most part, appear in each section, but each focuses on a different combination. The first section focuses on the artist Ku, slowly building a picture of a quiet life in a rural backwater. The second switches tempo, with amazing martial arts action focusing on the fugitive Ku and her friends. The final section calms down again, as the mysterious Buddhist monk comes into sharp focus, and the martial arts become more and more amazing.

All this takes place in the most beautiful Chinese countryside, sometimes bathed in light (the use of sunlight and the monk is particularly impressive) and sometimes in dramatic thunderstorms, making the film even more of a delight to watch. Don't be put off by the 'kung-fu' label, this is even better than "Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger".
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most remarkable
hgz14 January 2001
Hsia Nu is not only one of the most remarkable martial arts movies one could imagine, but in any sense a most remarkable film. I at least am unable to name many other three hour long movies which I have not found slightly lengthy (not to say boring) at some stage. Moreover Hsia Nu is the kind of film one definitely would want to watch on the big screen of a cinema, something rather rare as far as martial arts films are concerned and generally rare for anything not an extremely expensive super-production.

Its panoramic nature sequences have not only esthetic value, but are also symbolically relevant. In fact if one wanted to do this, it would be possible to interpret the whole movie as an allegory of human existence. Fortunately there is really no need to get out the heavy guns of symbolism and artistic value to convince oneself that Hsia Nu is a great movie. It is gripping and entertaining, amusing and serious, and infused with a pathos hardly ever encountered in European (or American) movies. Pathos of course is something difficult to handle, but the director and cast of Hsia Nu manage it very well. The film has its deliberate light moments, but it never invites laughter at its moments of pathos.

Of course we are talking here about a martial arts movie. And indeed, the fighting sequences are brilliantly done - there definitely has been no progress since 1969 - but there is not only that. There is in fact not all that much fighting if one considers that this is a three hour film, and the fights do not carry the plot. In some sense Hsia Nu resembles more a Japanese samurai drama than what we more customarily associate with the Hong Kong and Taiwan martial arts genre.

The plot is very long and complex - though perfectly understandable, and even logical - therefore I do not see any real interest in retelling it here. Suffice to say that it contains most principal human emotions: loyalty and treason, love and revenge, hunger for happiness and for...enlightenment. The acting is brilliant, and especially a more masterly 'great master' character, a monk in Hsia Nu, would indeed be difficult to find in any martial arts movie.

If anybody is not convinced by the merit of the martial arts genre and just wants to give it a sole and unique chance, then this is the movie that might convinced such a snob that cinematographic 'art' is not necessarily grey, quiet and slow, but can be colourful, vibrant and full of pathos.
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Mood-driven journey to spiritual enlightenment
PiranianRose17 July 2005
To think that I used to accuse King Hu of doing injustice to the wuxia genre with boring storytelling and slow action, I must have been on crack at the time--as his best works completely transcend elements of conventional film-making. In A TOUCH OF ZEN, It's not the story or the action that stands out; although they are part of the system, they are secondary to the theme of spiritual enlightenment, which is what counts in Buddhist philosophy. When the abbot confronts the East Chamber agent, the art of combat is strictly utilized by the abbot to guide the agent to "put down his sword, and attain peace with Buddha." There is a haunting sight when the bookworm scholar is amused by his tactic which fooled the agents. He thinks he has reached the peak of perfection, but then he sees dead bodies lying around who have suffered from his tactic, and the only thing on his mind is a woman whom he lusts. As book-smart as he is, he still suffers from worldly affair like everyone else. Only at the end when he accepts Buddha is he able to live in peace.

Aside from the philosophical points, ZEN also scores strongly in establishing mood, suspense, and fascinating visuals. The Jiang Hu in this film feels incredibly authentic, and the rich mise-en-scene is refreshing compared to the limited Shaw Bros studio offerings. I loved the photography throughout; it beautifully captures the spiritual wonder of ancient Orient. In framing still shots, King Hu chiefly employs medium and medium close-ups, mounting his camera at an upward angle so we can always see beyond the characters, perhaps to suggest existence of higher wisdom.

One observation I would like to propose is that although ZEN is probably a milestone in Chinese cinema, it would be a minor masterpiece compared to the best works from 60s Japan. The lush photography and haunting images from KWAIDAN come to mind as a comparison. No doubt, King Hu also learned a few tricks from the likes of Kurosawa, such as pointing his camera at the sun which occurs frequently in ZEN.

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The ultimate martial arts movie?
HMM-430 July 1999
I first saw 'A Touch of Zen' in the late 70s; it had such an effect on me that I looked for it on video for years and years, but to no avail - then to my relief it was shown on TV during a martial arts night twenty years later. In fact it was shown as the finale of that night - so perhaps I am not the only person who thinks this is the ultimate martial arts film.

It is over three hours long; the first hour is mainly scene-setting and not much happens, but this just adds to the impact. All you could want in a film is here - tension, action, arty filmwork, a kind of love interest, action, beautifully choreographed fights, intrigue, action, comedy, philosophy.... and a monk who is so pure that when he is wounded he bleeds.... well, you'd better see for yourself what he bleeds.

A must-see (if you have three hours to spare).
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Top ten favorites. A Touch of Zen
Joseph P. Ulibas19 November 2003
A Touch of Zen (1969) has to be one of the best films ever made. I am one of those people who can never truly name a personnel favorite film. I feel that there isn't a film that you can say is the best ever. I still do but if I had to say five or ten, A Touch of Zen would have to be in the top five. I haven't felt this way about a movie since I saw The Seventh Seal. I love this movie. Everything from the beautiful photography down to the deepness of the picture. The acting is superb, the writing is top notch and the direction is flawless. The film has everything you could want in a movie; action, drama, and comedy. The soundtrack is haunting and the wire work is amazing. No wonder why so many movies have copied off of this film (notably Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix Trilogy). Unlike those other films this movie will withstand the test of time


This movie is awesome. A magical experience caught on celluloid. A true treasure.
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Shining star of the Asian cinema
Manulimainen Manuli29 June 2007
Touch of Zen is one of those movies that are on a class and genre of their own and probably never in the movie history will find their match. King Hu certainly lived up to his name, when crafting this piece of art that deserves even more respect and admiration than it has already had.

Blending different genres seamlessly together and paving the way for many movies to come, everything here is well balanced and thought over. The story that begins as a ghost story starts slowly but rewardingly layering up, developing and getting more dimensions, moving into Wu Xia styled action and politics drama, then leaping into the territory of Seven samurais -style tactical warfare depiction, finally getting some deeply mystical aspects in the end. Settings and photography are stunningly beautiful, and all the visuals are breath-taking timeless.

Looks like time simply cannot touch this movie, and that's why I compare this one to the works of Sergio Leone. Definitely one of the best movies I have ever seen. Now, if only my wish come true and we had some day better than watchable DVD release of this true classic, preferably fully restored from original film. One can only hope...

This is my truth. What is yours?
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Finally available
Puppetmister28 July 2003
For UK DVD viewers, this genre classic is finally available to own. Optimum's print is not perfect (slightly dim in places), and you can't turn off the giant subtitles (should you want to), but at least we can see the full version of King Hu's masterpiece. Anybody seriously interested in martial arts cinema must seek out a copy, since it represents one of the most elegant examples of its type, a few years before the international success of Asian fight flicks proliferated a slew of poorly dubbed, re-edited versions for Western markets, solidifying the stereotype of "chop-socky" films as plot-free, laughable foreign commodities. A Touch of Zen builds up for almost a full hour before so much as a punch is thrown. The story is narrow, but complex, and King Hu takes time to create atmosphere, and a sense of place and time which is often taken for granted in other period epics. Oh yes, and the fight scenes are great.
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A few brief words:
carpet_seller4 February 2001
I came upon this film by accident, I looked for it on video, someone offered me a second generation copy for US$80! No thanks, then by magic it came up on digital TV in the UK, 3 months after I had started to look for it!

I saw the widescreen/subtitled 177 mins version, although it is 3 hours long it is not boring, it keeps your attention throughout. The fight sequences I did not find particularly thrilling except for the monks (they were exceptional). The film is a little too dark, not enough sunshine. The photography is excellent especially given the film was made in '69. You can see the similarity with the modern day "crouching tiger hidden dragon" Ang Lee has said he was inspired by this film. If you ever get a chance to see this make sure you do.
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Not just action
s_unyata10 April 2006
"A touch of Zen", the English title is perhaps the only thing about this film that isn't beautifully and subtly conceived... This is a film about about ambition, perception, personality and what evil might be... it isn't really a standard action movie.

The storyline is highly compelling, but not rushed; the pacing is wonderfully handled, moving from the slow, almost lazy quotidian existence of the unambitious, scholarly protagonist to the fast paced, highly dynamic camera work of the action scenes. The shape of the film, perhaps the most amazing aspect of this 'masterpiece', starts with the small (even petty) and slowly ramps through the heroic to the iconic and finally to the divine. Each stage is a brief, often profound meditation on the nature of life and humanity of that state.

The cinematography is always lavish and startling, and, as with many of the Japanese films of the time, not afraid of a screen beautifully composed mostly of shades of darkness.

The martial arts displayed are never exhibitionary nor obviously proficient. This understated quality to the skills is sometimes disappointing (if that is why you are watching the film), but ends up being the best way to capture the the unknowable skills of some of the characters. As a matter of interest, a young Sammo Hung makes an appearance as a bodyguard and there are some other kung fu faces amongst the stunt men.

All in all, this film is profound and compelling. Well worth a watch
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A classic of cinema.
deadjoe8 May 2001
Ok A Touch Of Zen can be describe like a Wu Xia Pian, but it is a good movie in all the direction. Not only a good wu xia pian, a good movie.

Critics of Occidental country always ignore the genre movie. It is why by exemple, we never saw "Ninkyo Eiga" from Japan, but it is the moste populare genre in the 60-70 era. When a director like Sergio Leone made too much succes, they can't ignore him. But in general, they try to put their own idea of the each country's cinematography on the dictionnary. Japan are a zen country who made slow movie like Ozu (althought Ozu try to made movie like American with Japanese things).

This is why the history of cinema are full of injustice. King Hu are one the great injustice. Yes, he made wu xia pian, a martial art genre movies. Swordplay movie in fact.

But is movies are a perfect mechanic, an exemple of editing. Hu made is own editing and like the piano play by Glenn Gould, we recognise his style when you pay attention of editing.

Hu dont want to use "wire" or special effect. He want use "editing" and camera to suggest anythings.

A Touch Of Zen are a gem. But i understand, it is maybe too much asian for the american country. All the first alf of the movie are talk and slow pacing. But the others alf are action, action and action. I dont know who want to watch that. Intellectual who love serious movies will love the first alf but maybe they just think acyion are too stupide. Same thing for the teenager who love action pack.

But, if you forget all your expectation, you will be touch byééé magic of poetry. Hu made a 3 distinctive parts movie. The first focus on individuality, the second on politics and the third on religion.

The first hour focuys on a naive scholar who discover strange yhing happen in the village where he live whit his old mothers. Suspens and mystery are the substance of this part.

The second show politics manipulation and the substance of war. This is the Hu tradionnal part. We are in Dragon Inn Gate, Fate Of Lee Khan or all the politics corruption things. A lot of martial arts.

The third part introduce us in the things of spirit. Hu show us a personn face to himself, the society and the spiritual....

But dont epect the spiritual journey like American movies. It his a King Hu movie. Ellipse and short cut are always where you dont expect and the focus always where you never goes....

A great movie.
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One of the Best Chinese Film !! But Be Warned !!
moviesbest5 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I will like to justify some comments on this classic film and also WARN those who are looking forward to watch it. If anyone expect this movie to be full of action, I suggest they stick to Hollywoood films. If they expect a lot of swordplay, go for the Shaw Brothers releases, there are plenty of them.

Touch of Zen(Xia Nu) is a great piece of 3 hrs Chinese art like the Belle noiseuse,La, a 4 hrs French art, but not as long or as slow. I watched it 30 over years ago as a kid and found it boring(a box office flop then) but when I watched it on DVD recently, I really appreciate and enjoyed it. It's not like the usual Chinese sword-fighting movies, there are very few actions here, in fact, for the first half(Part 1) there is only 1 short action scene(I don't consider this a spoiler)at the climatic end, which I consider a classic. Here is where the recent "bamboo action scenes" from other movies got the idea. Bear in mind, there is no digital effect at that time. I think Cannes gave it a technical award due to that scene. Those who think that Crouching Tiger or Flying Daggers' bamboo scenes are better, they should take a second viewing and try to figure out how those scenes are shot.

Those who enjoyed King Hu's or sword-fighting films should also watch Come Drink With Me, Dragon Inn Gate(the original), The Valiant Ones and The Fate of Lee Khan.(Too bad the latter 3 are not available in DVD yet) and those who appreciate Chinese art must watch his Raining in The Mountain and Legend in the Mountain. King Hu only directed around 15 movies in 30 years(probably the least for an Asian director of those times) and I recommend the above mentioned 7 to foreigners as I consider them as classics. I will give them a 8 or 9 for IMDb ratings.
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Can't quite put my finger on it...
Fergoose9 May 2004
but this film ticks all my boxes. I have never seen anything quite like it.

I saw this well before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the comparison was painful to my eyes. CTHD was a beautiful film in its own way but it was far too westernised (e.g. it had an eye on the lowest common denominator, concentration on high production values rather than telling a story).

A Touch of Zen was mercifully made in a time before such depressing trends in films. It does not patronise the viewer with overly sentimental gushing that is needlessly inserted in order to generate a love interest. Or with OTT 'mood music' to prompt you how to feel because the script isn't up to the job.

One of the main fighters is a woman, but there is no attempt to portray her as some 'chick with attitude'.

The pacing of the film is also perfect, allowing the wonderful characterisation of the main player to develop fully.

At just under 3 hours, and with the unusual mix of pure action with an intelligent and sensible story, this film is not going to be to everyones tastes. But its well worth a look because if you like it, you are liable to love it.
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Kung Fu cinema at it's finest. Amazing!
veganflimgeek27 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Touch of Zen

This movie requires a patience that most Kung Fu fans lack. Today I finished watching it for second time through. Few would argue that this is not King Hu's masterpiece and indeed it is just that a masterpiece. While I certainly understand how sometimes classics get dwarfed by the films they inspire (how insulting is it that hidden fortress is often labeled simply as the film that inspired C-3PO and R2D2) I think it is too bad here. Yes Touch of Zen is Ang Lee's favorite martial arts film and was a huge inspiration for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Yes It's true, and perhaps the film will find more fans as a result and I think that is great.

Touch of zen is cinema in it's finest form. It is three hours long, lacks the fancy wire work or CGI of modern Wuxia pan films but still stands the test of time. When you consider that this film was made in 1968/69 it makes it so much more impressive. The scenery is filled with beautiful imagines throughout the film of rural China. The camera balances light in most impressive ways. The main monk of the film is consistently beaming with natural sunlight which expresses in a beautifully cinematic way his connection to nature. Anyone who used a video camera in intense sunlight understands how hard those shots must have been.

If you the kind of Kung Fu fan that was really bothered by the fact that Crouching tiger didn't have a fight scene for 15 minutes don't bother. TOZ doesn't get to the action until 55 minutes in. However the tone of the film requires that we understand a few things about the artist whose eyes the story is told through.


TOZ is the second only to 36th chamber when it comes to making a Buddhist monks look badass. When the henchman HZU brings his violence onto the sacred ground to capture our renegade heroes he learns he can't defeat the Buddhist monks. There power is too great. He resorts to lying. Begging on his knees to be accepted by the monks, Indeed it is there only weakness, by the grace of Buddha he wants to help. Yet still the Buddhist monk doesn't resort to violence. He calls on Buddha and the powers of the universe and the henchmen destroys his sons and then him self. At least that is my take.

***********End spoilers********************

Touch of Zen is an excellent martial arts film for fans of films like MUSA, Hero or Crouching tiger. It must however be viewed as a film of it's period.
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So pretty it must be art...
HauntingRaven2 November 2008
Once there was a time when I thought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the very best martial arts movie man could make. Both visually and story-tellingwise it was a joy to watch, and the fight scenes were the best ever with their unrealistic features. Once I saw King Hu's martial arts masterpiece A Touch of Zen I was rather surprised since it exceeded in almost every level. First released in 1971, this great film hasn't lost any of its power or splendor which is a fine merit on its own.

In the beginning of the movie we follow the everyday life of a poor artist Ku, an unmarried man in his thirties, who is living in a rather small town with his mother. This first part of the film (for it can roughly be divided into three parts) plays much like a family drama with some small comic moments. Ku's life gets a little more interesting when he notices strange people walking around town, a mysterious man visiting his studio and befriending him, and some strange noises coming from a house that is rumoured to be haunted. All this and the love (or is it just lust?) he feels for a certain woman change his life completely.

The next two parts offer a very different experience each providing the story with politics, war tactics and a growing spiritual element of mystery through beautiful photography, great direction and awesome fight scenes. What really stands out in the martial arts part of the film is how real it feels. I know it isn't real; some leaps and moves the characters make just can't be done in real life, but the clanging of the steel, swooshing of people's clothes when they perform their moves and the sound of footsteps are so impressive that I found myself holding my breath at some scenes. This is also helped by the near perfect choreography. It's nothing like the tricky and lightning-fast movements in CTHD and I like this much better. The fighters are really observing each other's moves to know when to strike.

I really can't find any serious faults in this movie. Being over three hours long there wasn't a single wasted minute. Any yawning I did was due to the late hour when I was watching this. It is true that the film moves slowly forward but I think it's necessary for the atmosphere to develop. The director really knew what he was doing since all the important scenes have that special quality to them that can only be acquired when superb direction, believable acting and a great sense of situation come together. The use of light is especially worth mentioning since it is so well done. The fight in the forest where light shines through the leaves creating a dreamlike scenery in the background has got to be one of the most captivating things I've seen on film.

A Touch of Zen is one of my favourite movies. It is very well executed in every way imaginable, and definitely among the best martial arts movies. If you like this type of movies where great action is mixed with spiritual elements and a search for peace, you must see this beautiful movie. It won't leave you cold.
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Truly a great film
levstein13 January 2008
This is truly a great film. It is unfortunate that the only DVD versions that are available are in pretty poor shape (though, I must add, not in as bad shape as the more recently filmed Ashes of Time by Wong Kar Wai).

How the translation of Hsia Nu got to become A Touch of Zen, I'll never know - and it's too late to change it now as A Touch of Zen is how the film is known outside of China.

This film really has it all. Some wonderful cinematography; a great story; marvelous special effects (using good camera work - without the use of computers); and, some good emotional content.
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Dull beyond belief
zetes27 November 2003
I didn't think I could be so bored by a martial arts film. How disappointing; I was looking forward to finally seeing a film by the legendary director King Hu, but this may turn me off any other films of his. The story is a dull one about a fugitive girl, an expert in martial arts taught by some powerful monks, who moves into a small town hoping to escape her death sentence. Her father had spoken out against a local tyrant, and his whole family was sentenced to death. An artist neighbor of the girl falls for her, and gets mixed up in the dangers she faces. The martial arts sequences are few and far between in this 3 hours + film, and the ones that are there are mostly poor. The editing is so choppy that it's often impossible to tell what's going on. Worse yet, a good number of these sequences are at night, so you can't see anything. Only the two climactic battles (the film is split in two) are any good at all, and they are kind of similar, at that. The only commendable aspect of the film is its gorgeous color cinematography. It is truly exceptional, but nothing else about A Touch of Zen is.

Think me a rube or what have you, but nothing but pseudo-profundity and a lack of technical knowledge.
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No Ordinary Chop-Socky Flick
JoeytheBrit10 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
King Hu's Hsia nu, which served as the inspiration for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has acquired near-legendary status in the forty-plus years since it was first made. The film tells the familiar tale of a small-town man, still living at home with his mother in his thirties, who meets an attractive woman living in the deserted fort next door. The man strikes up a friendship with her, but is drawn into political intrigue when he discovers she is actually the daughter of a murdered ruler on the run from her father's killers. The man draws on his interest in military strategy to help the woman defeat her pursuers.

This is no ordinary chop-socky flick, as can be seen by the way it polarises opinion between those who praise it as a lyrical work of art and those who complain about not being able to see what's going on during the night fighting scenes. I watched expecting an art-house flick, but was still surprised at how rigidly the director sticks to his artistic vision while making virtually no concession to the action genre. Even the fight scenes – and there are quite a number after the first hour – are out of the ordinary. They do at least boast a type of editing that was way ahead of its time – the film doesn't look at all dated – in the way that we are constantly teased with incomplete shots of the action.

The pace is measured to say the least; director King Hu seems more interested in savouring the composition of each shot for its own sake rather than developing a character or advancing the plot. The cinematography is superb, the composition seductive, but as the hour mark passes with little of any substance revealed, suspicions of indulgence are unavoidable. The plot isn't complicated, but is nevertheless difficult to follow at times (I should point out the UK DVD version I watched was approximately 30 minutes shorter than the running time given on IMDb, which might account for the gaps in the plot.)

Ku, the nominal hero, is an artist, an observer who, during the course of the film, must set aside his passivity, and the film calls upon the audience to do the same, which is why some might find it challenging to watch without their attention wandering. The film is really three types of story rolled into one – ghost story, political intrigue and spiritual enlightenment – and journeys from the mundane (Ku's daily routine of setting of to work and unlocking his small kiosk) to the sublime (the monk's transcendence into Nirvana). It's the sort of journey the viewer needs to repeat in order to appreciate all its subtleties and power but, in all honesty, if you're like me, it's probably a journey you'll only feel like taking once.
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Mock transcendence
chaos-rampant15 June 2011
Apparently this is a big deal in the wuxia niche, proof there is more to these films than simple chop socky and that they can paint sunsets and sweep us to them like the best of films. I have no vested interest in wuxia, though I have passed through a Shaw Bros phase; what brings me here is Zen, beautiful, madcap Zen.

Although I follow a different branch of Buddhist practice, I am grateful for Zen tradition. We may find elsewhere similar notions of emptiness as the essence of form, but none that sing what it means to be fully, vitally empty with the passionate ardor of Zen.

The great Sufi love poets like Rumi also approached the mystery of what it means to unveil the world rather than explain it, but what awareness graced them was intuitive, desert inspired. Tao addressed the reflections of the cosmos in the evening dewdrops, what it means to look at a flower looking back at us, but that unity of far and close is enclosed in a perfect circle of yin-yang. Zen by contrast blossoms in the asymmetry of what spontaneously arises and disappears; and what the Zen Masters so eloquently talk about is what they have personally awakened to through their ardent practice of silence. The Enso circle that symbolizes this Awakening is often deliberately painted crude, as pointing to the imperfection of form it embraces.

So we have here a sweeping affair of political intrigue and unjust persecution in a China of empires. All this is in tacit understanding that these hierarchies will come to pass, like their forebears. The film after all opens in a deserted fort, in the mansion of a general ruined by civil war. Possibly this depiction of a corrupt aristocracy blinded the censors of the time to what it actually reflected of their own regime. Czech filmmakers were masters of this ubiquity, by situating their griefs with Soviet tyranny against a not-so-distant Nazi oppressor.

But the film is not content with this, which after all the Japanese had delivered decades ago in much more refined form. So what is the Zen touch here?

Although it's adequate as the former, here the film completely breaks apart. It's not enough that the Buddhist monks are made to be little more than godly vehicles who conveniently show up at the right moment to aid the oppressed with their superhuman abilities of kung fu (which is after all a valid extension of Zen practice), or whatever it is that these monks represent is reduced to the status of benevolent protectors.

What is actually surprising is that none of the characters who are met with this way of life are imparted with anything. What perfect opportunity squandered for example, to make the young portrait painter realize that 'knowledge' and 'wisdom' are not to be found in books. And how is it that the two fugitives leave the monastery with only the knowledge of deadly kung fu and none of the compassionate mind to control it?

It is not surprising then that this kind of film, that has reduced everything to appearance and platitude, would go on in the end to actually depict nirvana. The image intended to be transcendent transcends nothing, not merely because nirvana is a state of mind beyond words, but because ultimately there is nothing to transcend. Whatever mock transcendence in the image of the Buddha we find here means nothing.
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It Hasn't Aged Well
Imhotep7721 July 2005
With all due respect to the HK Movie Association who puts this movie as #9 on the 100 best Chinese films of the last 100 year, I believe this movie is rather dated. As with "Lady Snowblood" (1973) which I put in my two cents recently, they might be at the vanguard of their respective genres at the time, but now, 30 odd years later, they haven't age well at all. This happens, I think, especially with genre movies where technology plays an important part. Dramas such as "Rebecca" (Hitchcock) or "Now, Voyager" (Bette Davis), which are still some of my all-time faves, fare much better because technology won't really make them better; they already have great direction, story, pacing, acting, etc.

I also want to dispute a reviewer from UK who mentioned that this movie is much more Chinese than "Crouching Tiger" which is too westernized. I can't disagree with him more. Having actually read the wuxia novels that many of these movies are based on, I have to say "Crouching Tiger" beautifully captures the lyricism and essence of the wuxia world without any Western influence. But I digress.

The pacing of this movie is really too slow. Fully an hour was devoted to people, chiefly of the male protagonist, walking around and around in that same little village. An HOUR of nothing much happening to propel the story! As a matter of fact, a large portion of the 3-hour movie time is eaten up by showing people walking from point A to point B which is totally pointless. The bamboo forest scene will remind many of a similar scene in "House of Flying Daggers" and is probably its inspiration. Alas, it was done much better in the newer movie, due to better choreography, wire works, and kinetic energy that "Zen" sadly lacks. Same argument for all the other set pieces. The ending is anticlimactic since there is no tension when one party is the living Buddha (or something like that). The use of negative film to denote some sort of divine intervention is jarring and a little laughable.

During the opening credits, it indicates that this movie is based on a book which is written in the Manchu dynasty, probably in the late 18th or early 19th century. I don't know of a direct translation of the book but it is available in English with the title, "Chinese Ghost and Love Stories" by Pu Songling (I coin him the Chinese Edgar Allen Poe). It is one of the premiere books in Chinese literature. Not all his stories are about ghosts but all have a fantastical element and most have a moral to it. But the book are all short stories and none is long enough to be a novella; so stretching a short story to 3 hours entails lots and lots of padding; hence, all the walking. I haven't actually looked for the story that the movie is based on but I can say for sure that in old Chinese society and in Pu's stories as well, no woman who is from a respected family (as the female character is) would bed down with a practical stranger, EVER, unless she is a demon or a ghost, which does happen quite frequently in his stories and are almost always not a good thing. It probably had happened in real life when there was a strong attraction, but she was basically feeling pity for his mother and so decided to give her virginity to him. Yeah, I don't think so! The DVD quality from Tai Seng is abysmal which probably also contributes to my discontent. The transfer is horrid; pixilated (like in a VCD) in some scenes, looks like it's forever raining in dark scenes, some black spots permanently imprinted on the screen throughout the entire movie. The big fight scene that happens at the deserted house at night is so dark that is practically unwatchable. Moreover, the audio is muddy and barely audible even with volume turns to the loudest.

The Chinese title is translated as Heroine but the official English title is a better description of the movie given the spiritual element in the movie.
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A touch of class...
poe4266 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A TOUCH OF ZEN unfolds in Real Time (up to a point) and the beautifully casual pace of the opening scenes draw the viewer in in the way movies always SHOULD but seldom DO. The cinematography is wonderful, and much of the movie seems to have been shot using natural light (something I've always tried to do). There are some great selective point of view shots along the way, as well as a dimly-lit and eerily suggestive nighttime battle that's all the more realistic for its lack of light. (One can't help but wonder if these nighttime scenes looked better on the Big Screen, as film is a chemical process involving exposure to light and the DVD is an electronic medium. SEVEN, for instance, which literally had varying degrees of Light exposure within a single frame, looks completely different on a television screen than it did in a theater.) It's only fitting that Hsu Feng should have starred: without a doubt, she was one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the Big Screen. And the baby was a nice touch, too.
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A Touch of Zen
Jackson Booth-Millard27 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is where I found out that this Taiwanese (Mandarin language) film even existed, obviously I wasn't going to miss the chance to see it and hopefully agree with the recommendation. Basically well-meaning, often clumsy and unambitious scholar and painter Ku Shen Chai (Chun Shih) lives with his mother in her house nearly a supposedly haunted abandoned fortress, and one day deciding to explore this fortress he finds it occupied. Yang Hui-Ching (Feng Hsu) is a female fugitive hiding out from a stranger in town wanting to take her to back to the East Chamber guards for execution, and he wants to help her with her plan to bring out the real villain in a plot. A corrupt Eunuch Wei is trying to get rid of Yang and the rest of her family, and through the process of helping and sleeping with her Ku is no longer bumbling and becomes stronger in will, but it may not necessarily come from himself, it may supernatural forces. A big battle ensues between the painter turned warrior and the East Chamber guards, and Yang goes missing, but Ku tracks her down to a monastery, where powerful saint Abbot Hui Yuan (Roy Chiao) is there, and she has given birth to Ku's child and become a nun. The evil Chief Commander Hsu Hsien-Chen (Han Ying-Chieh) tracks down the monastery and leads the army of Eunuch Wei into another battle, but the villain ends up defeated and killed, and in the end Yang was badly injured, and supposedly she dies as the sun rises and makes it look like she has a halo. Also starring Hsue Han as Dr. Lu Meng, Ying-Chieh Han as Hsu, Shui Wang as Mun Ta and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo as Commander Hsu's son, and apparently young Jackie Chan appears somewhere doing background extra and stunt work. As soon as I saw some of the chase and fight sequences I could tell that this was the inspiration for the eye-catching choreography and artistry of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, I will be honest and say that I got a little confused and lost in the story going on, and the three hour length is a little annoying, but for all the exciting bits it is a worthwhile martial arts action drama. Good!
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To Be Experienced
Musashi9414 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
King Hu's 1971 masterpiece might be one of the most visually striking films I've ever seen. It's also terrifically entertaining both as a martial arts film and as an examination of Buddhist philosophy. The story involves a timid and underachieving painter who gets mixed up with an enigmatic gang of fugitives on the run from a corrupt government. From there, the film focuses on the painter attempt's to help the fugitives as well as the involvement of a group of Buddhist monks who are also martial arts masters.

The story unfolds in a very organic matter. In a departure from the typical wuxia film, the majority of the film unfolds from the perspective of the painter, an everyman, who serves as a surrogate for the audience. Shih Chun is excellent in this role, giving the painter a sense of nervous energy and giving the role a comedic touch without overplaying it the way others actors might. Hsu Feng is also excellent as the female noblewoman on the run, managing to be both mysterious and sympathetic at the same time. The abbot played by Roy Chaio is the other standout performance from the cast; he's dignified and quietly fearsome at the same time.

In addition to these strong performances, A Touch of Zen has some of the best direction and cinematography I've ever seen. The only film I've ever seen use light as effectively as displayed here is Barry Lyndon and even then I'd have to say there are more shots from A Touch of Zen that I recall vividly than from Barry Lyndon. The fight choreography is also top-notch, the fights in the fort and bamboo forest are justifiably iconic.

The prominence of the monks in the story and the focus on Buddhist teachings of mercy, compassion and non-violence also gives the film the kind of depth you rarely experience in an action or adventure film. That said, the film never feels preachy and is conveyed in a very organic matter. All of these elements combine to make A Touch of Zen an unforgettable viewing experience and one of the finest wuxia films ever made.
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Only for those who enjoy artistic films!
PopcornLovesMovie1 August 2007
This is one of the most awfully and painfully boring movie I have ever watched. Let me explain, the story is rather interesting with many plots. The problem is the SCENES. OH MY GOD they are making every scene feel like an eternity. A simple and unimportant scene can be 5 MINUTES longer than needed. they are really dragging the audience' patience here. I slept through many parts of the movie simply because it is so dull.

I have to say that the background music is very annoying too. By today's standard of course. maybe it wasn't at the time the movie was made but it only make sense to review it by today's standard because people live and watch movie in the present.

If you enjoy those artistic movie where the scenery and slow pace are important too then I think this movie will be very enjoyable to you. Otherwise, avoid this movie like the plaque.
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The daughter of a wrongfully slain court official, two of his generals, and a poor scholar team up to avenge the official.
ajoyce1va7 September 2007
I rented this movie from Netflix. The DVD shows it in letterbox format with bright white English subtitles in the lower black space. The quality of the print that was used to make the disc is good for outdoor action, but the action in two long night scenes is so dark as to be mostly invisible.

Obviously a lot of people love this film, but I'd give it only 7 out of 10 because it's way too long, over 3 hours. It was shown in theaters in the early 70's as Part I and Part II on separate days, which would be okay except the climactic fight in the bamboo forest which ends Part I is repeated in entirety in Part II. And there are other sequences which could be trimmed back. Towards the beginning, for example, Scholar Ku makes a long, long annoying nocturnal investigation of the spooky old mansion where he lives with his mother, finding nothing. Because the print is so dark, we see nothing as well. Again, in Part II, after the heroes have tackled the evil forces of the Eastern Chamber (a never-explained reference to some part of the Imperial Palace, I suppose), Scholar Ku wanders around the battle site laughing humorlessly over his own cleverness in the ways he spooked the Imperial guard force that came to attack. A little of this stuff goes a long way.

Nonetheless, it's a good Netflix rental. I particularly enjoyed seeing Pai Ying in a heroic role as Gen. Shih, and hawk-faced Miao Tien as the evil Commandant's lieutenant. It was also interesting to see 1970's Taiwanese hero actor Tien Peng (often billed as "Roc" Tien) as a handsome official of intermediate strength and skill working for the evil Eastern Chamber people. And I loved Ku's mother.

Two other people deserve honorable mention. The Chinese title "Hsia Nü" means "gallant lady", according to the subtitles, but lead actress Hsü Feng is hard to warm up to, and usually seems off-putting rather than gallant. She never smiles in this film or shows any emotional content when she fights.

The other interesting person is Chiao Hu (often billed as Roy Chiao), who plays the Buddhist monk that injects the Touch of Zen. Chiao was always a likable actor, but he too never smiles or seems like anything but a chilly person here. In both cases, however, their demeanor is perfectly appropriate to the roles, so I didn't mind that.

And was that Sammo Hung in a bit part, supporting the evil general Hsü in the final struggles?
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An adventure of grand proportions.
Boba_Fett113815 June 2012
This is a special kind of movie, since it's being so many different things all at once. It's a type of movie that feels more like an old fashioned Japanese samurai movie, even though this movie is being a Taiwanese production.

What I especially like about it is that it starts off as something totally different but eventually ends as am adventurous movie, with lots of material arts fights in it. It's a long movie (about 3 hours) so it takes its time to slowly set things up and let stuff develop into something different. This ensures that the movie is always slowly but gradually developing and also never stands still, so there is never being an actual slow moment in this movie.

As the story develops, things also definitely get more interesting and fun to watch. The movie turns into a real adventure, in which the main characters are almost constantly traveling and having encounters with people that want to take their lives. This ensures that there is also plenty of action to enjoy in this movie, involving sword fights but also plenty of hand-to-hand combat, with every now and then Wire Fu effects involved.

It's also being a real innovative and original movie at times with some of its editing and camera techniques. In that regard this is also being a real '70's flick, a period in which a lot of experimenting with editing and cinematography was going on. Especially the cinematography is great at times and also does a good job at capturing the right mood and brining the environments very lively to the screen.

It's just the sort of movie not an awful lot is being wrong with. It does everything well and within its genre it's being a great watch!


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