Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hsu Feng, Shih Chun, Pai Ying, Tien Peng, Hsue Han, Chiao Hong, Chang Ping-Yu, Wang Chung-Shan, Miao Tien, Tsao Chien, Wan Jei, Han Ying-Chieh
Written by: King Hu, Songling Pu
Directed by: King Hu
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 180
Date: 11/18/1971

A Touch of Zen (1969)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Master

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released in late 2000, most film writers were not all that familiar with Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Some brought up Tsui Hark's Swordsman II or Ching Siu-tung's A Chinese Ghost Story as obvious influences, but fewer still understood that even Tsui and Ching owed everything they knew to King Hu.

Even before Bruce Lee stepped in front of a camera, King Hu invented the flying swordsman genre, in which skilled fighters flipped and swirled through the air, jumping thirty feet off the ground for one quick metallic CLANG of swords before landing on their feet, ready for more. Hu's three-hour epic A Touch of Zen is generally considered his masterpiece, and it's a truly beautiful, awesome piece of work.

The story has a brilliant but modest artist who becomes fascinated with the beautiful girl who has moved into the abandoned building next door. It turns out that she's on the run from an evil Eunuch who killed her whole family and wants her dead as well. With the help of some monks and a few other fighters, the good guys prepare for war with the bad guys.

Hu fills his dazzling Cinemascope frame with waving foxtails, swirling fog, and stunning architecture. Each shot is like a photograph of China as we might imagine it in a dream.

DVD Details: The print used in Tai Seng's new DVD ($19.95) is slightly bleached and scratched, but not so bad that you won't be blown away. The sound fares a little less so, but the subtitles are well-written and clear. The disc contains a King Hu biography and filmography.

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