A Touch Of Zen (Xia Nu) 1971 [DVD] 
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Taiwanese martial arts feature. The film follows the painter Ku (Shih Jun) as he tries to protect a female fugitive, Yang (Hsu Feng), from being captured by an evil eunuch. After the eunuch arrives with an army of East Chamber guards, the artist and the warrior fortify Ku's mother's supposedly haunted mansion and set ghostly traps in preparation for the soldiers' arrival. Will the pair survive the inevitable battles?
From the Back Cover
A profound influence on Ang Lees Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and one of the most visually spectacular and beguiling films to emerge from the Far East, veteran director King Hus A Touch of Zen is quite simply essential viewing.
An ambitious, intricately structured tale that begins as a ghost story in a sleepy town outside Peking, Hu goes on to audaciously blend elements from the political thriller, the martial arts genre (the film also blazed a trail for Bruce Lee) and Japanese Samurai movies to create a highly lyrical and spiritual Ming dynasty epic. Moreover, the film boasts some of the most impressively choreographed and imaginative action sequences ever committed to celluloid. Beautifully performed throughout (the feisty, combative heroine Hsu Feng presents a refreshing vision of female empowerment), A Touch of Zen has acquired a legendary status that entirely befits its visionary daring and its utterly transcendent beauty.
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My opinion: the DVD gives a strange format on your screen - two-thirds only (on my iMac widescreen) with a large black surround - including the sides. No way to adjust, except making it a bit larger (and grainier). Picture quality is very poor, like watching early sixties television, really; so just sit back and immerse yourself. Suspend criticism of poor video quality; get used to slow shots and lots of atmosphere, and get lost in the story. That way you will get your reward: oodles of atmosphere, beautiful images, ghost stories, cowboy-like/operatic Eastern rather than western. Very much a forerunner/inspiration (1971) for the 2000 Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Think Chinese `Good, Bad and Ugly' segeueing into mystic Zen Buddhism - go on, blow your mind!
One detail criticism: the setting is supposed to be the Ming period - so how come early in the film we are shown maize as a staple food drying on the house?
I've seen and recorded it on C4, pan and scan, but I am hoping that the dvd really does some justice to it.
Set in 'historical china' the story is based on folklore of: the young town scribe/artist is given a commission which takes him to the abandoned fort outside of town where he meets a princess and her aide who are on the run. They set off to find refuge being persued by various soldiers, ninja et cetera. Although there are plenty of action sequences, the three hour running time gives lots of scope for character development and stunning photogratphy of the landscapes through which the protagonists journey.
This-boy meets girl, girl happens to be a princess on the run, whose only hope of safety is the sanctury of a fabled monastry and the protection its high-kicking monks can afford may sound a bit familiar and Ang Lee has specifically mentioned aToZ as the starting point of CTHD; unlike Hollywood, Hong Kong has no qualms about remaking a film to improve it rather than palming us off with degenerate sequels. But unlike CTHD there are no special effects and certianly no computer aided post production. It is also the conerstone by which much of HK's cat4 film industry judges itself.
aToZ is part of the tradition of great spectacle that covers much ground without ever being in your face about any particular issues. Seemlessly moving from; old vs. new, love vs. greed to the real biggie- good vs. evil!
oh and i lied about the special effects, but i don't want to spoil the gourgeous twenty minue end sequence...
Yet I feel his 'Raining on the Mountain' was much more enjoyable.
The middle of the movie was rather self-indulgent with King Hu showing off his research on ancient Chinese weapons.
Some of the night scenes were almost totally unwatchable.
But the climactic fight between good and evil you must watch, because you've never seen anything like this and never will again.
Existing DVDs suck, and we have to wait for a restoration. Years ago, Pioneer Laserdisc released a beautiful version that I saw but unfortunately didn't buy.
I heard that there is a good version of the DVD in France. I'll be buying it when I can track it down.
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