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. Studio: Tai Seng Entertainm... more »ent Release Date: 08/23/2005 Run time: 187 minutes« less
"A TOUCH OF ZEN is a little marvel of a film that modern cinemaniacs probably don't revere as much as they might given the fact that much of what's explored in the legend has already influenced countless other more contemporary films, and, thus the impact of ZEN has probably lessened over the years. This tale of redemption has experienced a resurgence of interest on the coattails of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, but it lacks the emotional resonance of that film for today's more cynical audiences.Still, ZEN isn't easily dismissed. It's a formidable story, based on legend, that's well worth the screen time. A word to the wise: the film clocks in at around three hours, and this is largely due to the photography of lush visuals. Arguably, ZEN is one of the most beautifully photographed films of its time.Disadvantages? The aforementioned audio track does sound less-than-remastered. Especially, the music accompanying the story has a decidedly 'tinny' quality to it, and the track actually drops about five seconds of any sound during one of the tense moments of Part I (the film is told in two pieces). Also, the wonderful choreography of two major fight sequences unfortunately take place at night, shrouded in darkness; while the filmmaker clearly wanted to use the mystery of darkness to his advantage, I don't think he wanted his audiences squinting so much. The translation of this film from the big screen to the small screen even darkens those scenes more, and the action is a bit of a loss as a result.Definitely worth a rent for fans of serious martial arts films. The mysticism is thick here, and, while some may only guess at the possible impact of the film's conclusion, it's a great conversation starter for film groups."
A Masterpiece - But a Terrible DVD
Reid Rosefelt | Brooklyn, NY | 06/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I went to see "A Touch of Zen" in the late seventies at the New York Film Festival. In all seriousness it was my greatest moviegoing experience in all my years as a moviegoer. I guess it's because whenever I saw a classic film like "Citizen Kane" or "The Bicycle Thief" or "The Godfather" or whatever, I was prepared to see something great.
But I was totally unprepared for this. I had never seen anything like it before. And when Hsu Feng suddenly revealed her ability to fight with this awe-inspired power and grace--not to mention bound like a gazelle--it hit me with all the beauty and magic of what movies can be. And it knocked me out to see a woman warrior like this.
Since then of course I've seen many films like this. "Crouching Tiger" quotes many films, but Ang Lee and James Schamus are fans of this one. But there is also "The Matrix" (the shot where Hsu Feng is revealed on the ceiling over the door) and of course, "House of Flying Daggers" - the scene in the bamboo forest is totally ripped off in that film. And of course, countless Hong Kong films. This was the bible.
And I also believe that the painstaking beauty of it's Leone-like compositions, it influenced the new generation of filmmakers like Zhang Yimou. Other directors of King Hu's time made four films a year. He spent three years on this.
But the thing to remember is that "A Touch of Zen" was completely done before CGI. Of course there is a lot of old-fashioned cinema trickery, but much of it is just plain old acrobatics.
So I was a little afraid to see what I would think of it decades later. What made the first time work was how unexpected it was. Anyway, I popped in a copy, just to check out how bad the copy was. I ended up watching the whole three hours, finishing at two am.
I've seen so many other films like this since, but it is still the best.
The copy is just like the ones you see in restoration videos, when they show you how the brilliant color has faded and there are all these scratches, etc. There is another version of this film that comes from a different company, it's available on Amazon.UK, but you would need an all-region player, which is of course illegal. It might end up being the same print anyway. There is another version I've seen at cinflix.com that has no subtitles.
One final note, I actually met King Hu on a Hollywood backlot in the eighties. He was trying to make a Hollywood film with producers Midge Sanford & Sarah Pillsbury ("Desperately Seeking Susan") I guess he was a little too early. I'm sure there would be a place for him now, but he passed on years ago."
One of the best films ever made (in my opinion).
Joseph P. Ulibas | Sacramento, CA, USA | 07/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A Touch of Zen is a magical film. I have never seen anything like this before (or since). A whimsical tale filled with vengence, redemption, honor and enlightenment. Everything about this film is a wonder to behold. King Hu wanted to make a movie that people will never forget once they saw it. All I can say is that he accomplished what he set out to do. Originally this movie was over six hours long. The studio forced him to edit it down to three hours. To hell with "Crouching Tiger..." You want to see a real mystical martial arts/asian zen film then this is the one!
However the DVD presentation is not that spectacular. A classic like this one deserves better. But despite it's flaws this is one movie you need to see! Watch out for a young Sammo Hung, Yuen Wah and Yuen Biao!!
Highest recommendation possible, one of the essentials."
SIMPLE, ELEGANT MIX OF CHINESE PHILOSOPHY, INCREDIBLE UNSPOI
Roy Clark | Edge of Toiyabe Nat'l Forest, NV | 07/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the first ten minutes I thought it was just okay; then it did nothing but get better for the next 177 minutes. Director King Hu was a visionary;no wonder so many contemporary movies have explicitly and liberally lifted his ideas.
Unlike so many martial arts' movies, character reigns; the plot is intricate, evolving and and motivates the action. And the natural locations make me want to take a very long walk around China. A feeling of reality and naturalness prevails in every scene.
If you buy this, and you should, read the bio of King Hu Jing-Chaun; amazing what he's done and the lasting impact of his work. His genius really shines in Touch of Zen."
One of King Hu's masterpieces
David Alston | Chapel Hill, NC, USA | 09/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sublime and sprawling, A TOUCH OF ZEN is perhaps the greatest in King Hu's series of ground-breaking, metaphysical period dramas.
Vaguely, A TOUCH OF ZEN is a martial arts film, and it's greatest influence was on other HK martial arts films (and later international crossovers like CROUCHING TIGER, HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS). But it approaches being martial arts as Tarkovsky would have done it - the film is set up in three methodically paced, long sections (it's a 3 hour film), which all feature a bit of action but devote more attention to character, landscape and narrative. The focus of each section falls upon different characters, with the central character in each section embodying different virtues: the humility and creativity of the artist (the focus of the first act), courage and confidence in the second act, and an assured enlightenment in the third. The three acts are linked by tightly controlled and far more explosive bursts of action in an otherwise meditatively paced film.
Hu explores other elements as well - the first act, mostly devoted to the artist, eases viewers into a framework of intrigues that will shape the plot; this section of the film is very slow, but in hypnotic (and definitely not dull) fashion, with an abundance of careful set detail and some rather astounding landscape photography. Here, palace intrigues and suggestions of the supernatural (A TOUCH OF ZEN is loosely adapted from a number of Pu Songling's gently surreal stories, collected in "Strange Tales From A Chinese Studio") drive the slowly coalescing plot. Intriguingly, the ghost story elements explored early in the film are satirized a bit later, adding a discrete layer of obtuse irony and genre commentary to the overall proceedings.
Gradually shifting into a second act, which moves the focus to an imperial fugitive (Yang Huizhen) who is being tracked in the area. Here another of Hu's advances surfaces - Hu had a knack for creating strong and complex female characters, and the fugitive seen here is one of the most memorable; definitely a touchstone for Ang Lee, among many others.
A TOUCH OF ZEN is divided with an intermission (on the DVD - more on this later) into two halves, and this 'second act' falls on either side of this division. A semi-famous, and much imitated, action sequence is to be found here.
During the third act, the focus shifts again, to a group of monks that make a brief but memorable appearance earlier, and - as the level of action gradually rises, so does the level of mysticality, with Hu's complex and highly personal take on Buddhism recalling Andrei Tarkovsky's similarly mystical and oblique Christianity.
Throughout, we have Hu's sense of humor, a sort of greatly modified slapstick providing extra charm - the very playful sense of humor would seem to be a strange addition, but it somehow works, giving an otherwise slow, meditiative film a breezy sense of rhythm. Again, I would point out the influence of Pu Songling (perhaps upon Hu's entire body of work); Songling's work - a classic of Chinese literature, blends spiritualism, surrealism, unexpected humor, political intrigues, horror and hints of the erotic - and Hu is unafraid of blending these seemingly disparate qualities into a vast, and sublime, cinematic endeavor.
This is a beautifully shot film, on my personal short list of the most gorgeous ever, and the US/R1 DVD does present A TOUCH OF ZEN in all of its' widescreen glory. Unfortunately, the film seems to be otherwise unrestored, with an indistinct print and several spots of faded colors distracting from some exquisite compositions and landscape shots of a variety that would've made John Ford jealous (with at least one explicit visual reference to Kurosawa as well). I would hope to see a fully cleaned-up DVD available at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future.
But - grainy DVD or not - this is something every cinephile out there should see.