King Hu

Sog.: Pu Song-Ling. Scen.: King Hu. F.: Hua Hui-Ying. M.: King Hu, Chin-Chen Wang. Scgf.: King Hu Chin-Chuan, Chow Chi-Leung, Chan Seung-Lam. Mus.: Lo Ming-tao, Ta Chiang Wu. Int.: Hsu Feng (Yang Hui-Ching), Shih Jun (Ku Shen-Chai), Pai Ying (generale Shih), Tien Peng (Ouyang Nin), Cho Kin (il magistrato), Miao Tian (il consigliere di Mun Ta), Cheung Bing-Yuk (la madre di Shen-Chai), Sit Hon (generale Lu Ting-Yen), Wang Shui (Mun Ta), Roy Chiao Hung (Hui Yuan), Han Ying-Chieh (Hsu Hsien-Chen), Man Chung-San (Lu Chiang). Prod.: Liang Fang Hsia-Wu per International Film Company, Lian Bang, Union Film Company ·DCP. D.: 180’. Col.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Heir to a long Chinese artistic tradition, King Hu consistently shows off an extraordinary command of the visual field, not only intended as a locus of the action, but also and above all as a choreographic space: a far cry from the mundane duels of everyday kung fu practiced at the time in the studios of Hong Kong, those of King Hu are real ballets, which owe as much to the Beijing opera as to the virtuosity of the camera, to the amazing agility of the actors, and above all to the science of flash editing: a large part of the frames from A Touch of Zen, especially the fight scenes, last one or at most two seconds, sometimes provoking a vague feeling of weariness and confusion in the face of effects that here and there are frankly repetitive.
It would, however, be wrong to reduce the film to a mere technical tour de force and a series of settling of scores between ‘good’ (the heroine Yang Hui Chen – played by the splendid actress Hsu Feng, previously seen in other King Hu films – her supporters, including the scholar Ku Sheng Chai with his curious mummy-like face, and the monks) and ‘bad’ (Ou-yang Nien with his men and Men-Ta’s political police, who follow them throughout the story). In reality, there is a dramatic and spiritual progression that carries the characters from a simple game of hide and seek between cops and robbers to an opposition that is political and also spiritual, between the keepers of Buddhist wisdom and those with secular and material power. From here there is the gradual intrusion of magic and the supernatural, until final enlightenment when Abbot Hui Yuan reaches Nirvana in a riot of solar and grandiose effects worthy of Abel Gance, for that matter not the best thing about the film. It is also a progression from shade to light, because while the first third of the film is almost completely immersed in semi-darkness, the last part is an ode to triumphant light, until the blinding of the traitor Hsu.
Not content with being a master of technique, of the camera, of (perpetual) motion, of rhythm and color, in A Touch of Zen, King Hu proves himself to be a ‘complete artist’: poet, writer, painter and musician. Of course, we cannot say that he is also an acute political thinker, but the merit of his ideas is undeniable: as in The Fate of Lee Khan and The Valiant Ones, A Touch of Zen denounces the darkest and most reactionary forces in Chinese history (government cops, the secret police).

Max Tessier, “Révue du cinéma”, n. 419, 1986

Copy From

Restored in 4K by L’Immagine Ritrovata from the negative. The director of photography supervised the color grading.