A Touch of Zen, one of the most spectacular Chinese martial arts actioners of all time, is today’s Trillion Dollar Movie. The 1971 epic from writer-director King Hu served as a major inspiration for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Key scenes and story elements also have been heavily paraphrased in both Star Wars and The Matrix.
It’s long — running more than three hours, divided into two parts — but sit back and enjoy the ride, as this film is guaranteed to sweep you up in the action given its lyrical beauty, heroic cast of Ming Dynasty characters and breathtaking fight scenes. It’s also a genre-bending pleasure, starting off as a ghost story then morphing into a romantic comedy, a political thriller and a Buddhist parable, before finally evolving into a no-holds-barred martial arts extravaganza.
Much of the plot centers around Miss Yang, who bears a striking similarity to Princess Leia. Miss Yang lives in an abandoned, possibly haunted fortress, where she has gone into hiding to escape a brutal regime that tortured and killed her father. Ku, an impoverished scholar from a nearby village, takes a shine to this damsel in distress and emerges as her most steadfast defender. Together, joined by a small band of Shaolin monks, they will challenge the corrupt Eunuch Wei and his many evil minions.
King Hu, who perfected his craftsmanship working with the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong, shot A Touch of Zen in Taiwan. He won a technical grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival recognizing his gorgeous landscapes as well as the special effects and editing behind the stunning swordplay. Hu continued making movies another 22 years, including Raining in the Mountains and Legends of the Mountains, both loosely based on the same source material as A Touch of Zen, namely, Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. Some of his later works are worth seeking out, especially those with action choreography by Sammo Hung. Still, none quite compares with this milestone production.
Closed captioning available in English and Spanish. Enjoy, and do return next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.