Gu Shengzhai (Shih Jun) is a scroll painter and letter writer who lives with his mother in the shadow of the supposedly haunted Fort Jimglu. He is over thirty, unambitious, and despite his mother’s insistence that he should get himself a proper job, Gu is happy to coast through life. That is, until the mysterious Mr Ouyang arrives and commissions Gu to paint his portrait. Shortly afterwards, when he investigates noises emanating from inside the haunted fortress, Gu is confronted by the beautiful Miss Yang (Hsu Feng) who, his mother explains, is their new neighbour. Apparently Miss Yang has moved into the fortress with her elderly mother, and sells funeral offerings. Gu’s mother thinks her son and Miss Yang would make a perfect couple, but Gu quickly discovers things are not all that they seem – Miss Yang and her mother are actually wanted fugitives, on the run from a vicious eunuch called Wei who assassinated Miss Yang’s father.
When the eunuch sends an army to capture Miss Yang, Gu must employ all his skills as a scholar and philosopher to help her booby-trap the fortress against the invaders. Together, they use the fortress’s ghostly reputation to their advantage, but it can only be a matter of time before the eunuch and his soldiers realise they have been duped. Can Gu help his new love escape, despite the fact that they are so wildly outnumbered? And what other chilling surprises does fate and the fortress have in store for them?
Written and directed by the legendary filmmaker King Hu, A Touch of Zen is the martial arts classic that inspired (among many others) Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story, and transformed wuxia cinema into an art form. It took three years to make, it deservedly won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, and – with a 200 minute running time – it remains one of the most epic martial arts movies ever made. Forty-plus years haven’t diminished its power. This new limited edition Blu-ray / DVD from Eureka! Masters of Cinema is a spectacular presentation of a film that is much more than the sum of its parts – in fact, the first hour of the movie is notable for its languid pacing and deliberate lack of action, concentrating instead on atmosphere and character development, before the story launches hell-for-leather into what seems like a never-ending series of fight sequences, each battle more terrific than the one that preceded it, with electrifying (if often ridiculous) feats of martial arts gymnastics that will send your jaw on a collision course to the floor. And if that wasn’t enough, the set also includes a fascinating documentary about King Hu and a booklet packed with photographs and new writing about the movie. Absolutely wonderful.
A TOUCH OF ZEN / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: KING HU / SCREENPLAY: KING HU, SONGLING PU / STARRING: HSU FENG, SHIH JUNG, PAI YING, TIEN PENG, ROY CHIAO / RELEASE DATE: 25TH JANUARY