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642 Ratings

A Touch of Zen

Xia nu

Directed by King Hu
Hong Kong, Taiwan, 1971
Adventure, Action, Drama


Ku Shen Chai, an artist in his early 30s, still lives with his mother, but he is suddenly shaken by the arrival of Yang Hui-ching, a mysterious princess on the run. Yang brings Ku into her circle of protectors, including a nameless monk whose spiritual guidance transforms him into a valiant fighter.

Our take

One of the preeminent wuxia films, A Touch of Zen has inspired countless filmmakers, from Ang Lee to Tsai Ming-liang. The first Chinese-language film to win an award at Cannes, King Hu’s masterpiece remains entirely indispensable, stunning with magnificent choreography and otherworldly beauty.

A Touch of Zen Directed by King Hu
The model for every philosophizing wuxia flick that followed, King Hu’s three-hour martial arts epic is visually splendid and thick with mystical overtones, sexual subtexts, Buddhist symbolism, and natural beauty. Notoriously, it doesn’t feature a single fight until almost the hour mark and ends on a note of psychedelic transcendence.
December 05, 2016
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The story is simple, but the treatment is complex. No Shaw film would have delayed the basic exposition so cunningly. And no Shaw film would have presented heroic swordplay through the eyes of a secondary character. Yet by building the plot around Gu, Hu creates a protagonist-as-witness.
July 20, 2016
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A grand-scale wuxia film that finds poetry in cinematic movement and action through the prismatic lens of genre. Comparable to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West for its playful tone and knowing deployment of archetypes, the film offers visually experimental battle sequences inside of a narrative mostly driven by chronological clarity and character development.
July 19, 2016
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