A Touch of Zen

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A Touch of Zen
Film poster
Traditional 俠女
Simplified 侠女
Mandarin Xiá Nǚ
Directed by King Hu
Produced by Hsia Wu Ling-fung
Written by King Hu
Starring Hsu Feng
Shih Jun
Pai Ying
Roy Chiao
Music by Wu Ta-chiang
Lo Ming-tao
Cinematography Hua Hui-ying
Edited by King Hu
Wing Chin-chen
Union Film
International Film Production
Distributed by Union Film (Hong Kong)
Release dates
  • November 18, 1971 (1971-11-18)
Running time
200 minutes
Country Taiwan
Language Mandarin

A Touch of Zen is a 1971 Taiwanese wuxia film directed by King Hu. The film won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, claiming the Technical Grand Prize award.[citation needed]

Although filming began in 1968, 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.[1]


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
  • Jackie Chan (uncredited stuntman)[citation needed]


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.

The film was awarded the Technical Grand Prize and nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Featuring stunning settings and backdrops, A Touch of Zen was an influence on many subsequent films, including Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers.


  1. ^ Teo, Stephen (2007). King Hu's A Touch of Zen. Hong Kong University Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-962-209-815-2. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: A Touch of Zen". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • Stephen Teo: King Hu's A Touch of Zen. Hong Kong University Press 2007, ISBN 978-9622098152

External links[edit]