At once a wuxia film, the tale of a spiritual quest, and a study in human nature, A Touch of Zen is an unparalleled work in King Hu’s formidable career and an epic of the highest order, characterized by breathtaking action choreography, stunning widescreen landscapes, and innovative editing.
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Do, do, do believe the hype. One of the great films of the seventies. Towers above all other traditional wuxia I have seen. And more than a touch of that there zen. Clearly an absolutely staggering amount of patience, discipline, artistry, and group cooperation went into making this theoretically impossible thing emerge as an actual thing you can actually watch. Criterion Blu-ray is beyond fantastic. Wow.
Essential cinema. King Hu's masterpiece may well be the greatest 'wuxia' film ever made and has influenced a score of filmmakers ever since. Leisurely paced throughout the film casts a spell on the viewer and one is as impressed by the calm as the flashes of violence within. Technically the film is aces as well with memorable cinematography, editing and music.
Some elements feel familiar, be it from other wuxia films or Westerns, but its huge scope and ambling narrative momentum make it feel so distinctive. If the politics become a bit distracting and abstruse, there is plenty else to make up for it, like the film's warm spirit, touches of humor, and graceful cinematography. A fascinating experience, with distinctive rhythms and textures.
Web of intrigue. "A Touch of Zen" is the rare wuxia film that centers itself not on the martial guardians who drive the story, but an outsider who serves as our audience surrogate. Viewing the kung fu intrigue from this remove, the plot recedes into the background as one realizes King Hu is far more interested in the indifference of the natural world, and the thin barrier separating the spiritual plane from our own.
Develops narratively & cinematically towards powerful, thematically motivated ends. From dark spirits to the light of Dao. Fog and lighting mesmerize as nature and accelerating montage build up resonance, leaving one in awe of a profound film demanding of multiple viewings.
92/100 - Amazing.