A Touch of Zen
|A Touch of Zen|
|Directed by||King Hu|
|Produced by||Hsia Wu Ling-fung|
|Written by||King Hu|
|Music by||Wu Ta-chiang
|Edited by||King Hu
International Film Production
|Distributed by||Union Film (Hong Kong)|
A Touch of Zen is a 1971 Taiwanese wuxia film directed by King Hu. The film won significant critical acclaim and became the first Chinese language action film ever to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, claiming the Technical Grand Prize award.
Although filming began in 1965, A Touch of Zen was not completed until 1971. The original Taiwanese release was in two parts in 1970 and 1971 (filming was still ongoing when the first part was released) with the bamboo forest sequence that concludes Part 1 reprised at the beginning of Part 2; this version has a combined run time of 200 minutes. In November 1971 both parts of the film were combined into one for the Hong Kong market with a run time of 187 minutes. Its running time of over three hours makes it an unusually epic entry in the wuxia genre.
The story is largely seen through the eyes of Ku, who is a well-meaning but unambitious scholar and painter, with a tendency towards being clumsy and ineffectual. A stranger arrives in town wanting his portrait painted by Ku, but his real objective is to bring a female fugitive back to the city for execution on behalf of the East Chamber guards. The fugitive, Yang, is befriended by Ku and together they plot against the corrupt Eunuch Wei who wants to eradicate all trace of her family after her father attempts to warn the Emperor of the eunuch's corruption.
One of the unique aspects of the film is that Ku is a non-combatant all the way through the film and only becomes involved when he sleeps with Yang. Upon doing so, he is no longer the naïve bumbling innocent, but instead becomes confident and assertive, and when Yang's plight is revealed, he insists on being part of it – and even comes up with a fiendish "Ghost Trap" for the East Chamber guards. This is a plan to use a supposedly haunted site to play tricks on the guards to make them believe they are prey to the undead. In the aftermath, Ku walks through the carnage laughing at the ingenuity of his plan until the true cost of human life dawns upon him.
After the battle, Ku is unable to find Yang, whom he is told has left him and does not want him to follow her. He tracks her down to the monastery of the saintly and powerful Abbot Hui Yuan, where she has given birth to a child by Ku and become a nun. She tells Ku that their destiny together has ended and gives Ku their child. Later, when Ku and the child are tracked down by Hsu Hsien-Chen, the evil commander of Eunuch Wei's army, Yang and Abbot Hui come to Ku's rescue. In the ensuing battle, Hsu is killed and Yang and Abbot Hui are badly injured (the latter bleeding golden blood). The film famously ends with the injured Yang staggering towards a silhouetted figure, presumably Abbot Hui, seen meditating with the setting sun forming a halo around his head, an image suggesting the Buddha and enlightenment.
- Hsu Feng as Yang Hui-ching
- Shih Jun as Ku Shen-chai
- Pai Ying as General Shih
- Roy Chiao as Abbot Hui Yuan
- Tien Peng as Ouyang Nin
- Cho Kin as Magistrate
- Miao Tian as one of Mun Ta's advisors
- Cheung Bing-yuk as Shen-chai's mother
- Sit Hon as General Lu Ting-yen
- Wang Shui as Mun Ta
- Han Ying-chieh as Chief Commander Hsu Hsien-chen
- Man Chung-san as Lu Chiang
- Liu Chu as one of the Magistrate's men
- Go Ming as one of the Magistrate's men
- Liu Chik as Mun Ta's guard
- Goo Liu-sek as Yang Lin
- Cheung Wan-man as Tao Lung
- Tse Chung-mau as royal messenger
- To Wai-wo as Mun Ta's guard
- Chen Shih-wei as Mun Ta's guard
- Hao Li-jen as woodcutter
- Sammo Hung as Commander Hsu's bodyguard
- Ng Ming-choi as East Chamber guard
- Billy Chan as East Chamber guard
- Lam Ching-ying as East Chamber guard
- Shan Mao as guard
- Lung Fei as guard
- Yeung Sai-gwan as monk
- Kei Ho-chiu as monk
- Poon Yiu-kwan as East Chamber guard
- Cheung Yee-kwai as East Chamber guard
- Lau Yau-bun as East Chamber guard
- Chiu Hing-chun as soldier
- Jimmy Lung as monk
- Moon Chuk-wa
- Jackie Chan (uncredited stuntman)
The film has been hailed for its cinematography, editing, and special effects, as well as its unusually thoughtful approach to the genre, with its strong thematic focus on Buddhism. The film makes strong use of symbolism throughout and is famous for its "abstract," open-ended finale. The motif of spiderwebs is often used to symbolize the tangled and sinister nature of the East Chamber and the evil Eunuch and the manipulative nature of Yang. Elsewhere, the film employs a dark, moody tone which enhances the sense of fantasy. Images of nature, the sun, and the use of lens flares are associated throughout with Buddhism and Abbot Hui's convent. The final battles between Hsu and Hui, which involve a number of mystical events, have been interpreted as a battle between good and evil or as a parable about Buddhist religious virtues, the evils of worldliness, and enlightenment.
- Lorge, Peter. "Sexing Warrior Women." Located in: Ramey, Lynn T. and Tison Pugh (editors). Race, Class, and Gender in "Medieval" Cinema. Macmillan, February 20, 2007. pages 157-163. ISBN 1-4039-7427-6, ISBN 978-1-4039-7427-3.